Plant cell ‘glue’ could hold key to wooden skyscrapers

Molecules 10,000 times narrower than a human hair could hold the key to the construction of wooden skyscrapers and more energy-efficient paper production, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications. 

The study, led by a father and son team at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge, solves the long-standing mystery of how key sugars in cells bind to form strong, indigestible materials.

Professor Paul Dupree from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge said, “What we found was that cellulose induces xylan to untwist itself and straighten out, allowing it to attach itself to the cellulose molecule. It then acts as a kind of ‘glue’ that can protect cellulose or bind the molecules together, making very strong structures.”

Understanding how cellulose and xylan fit together could have a dramatic impact on industries as diverse as construction, biofuels, paper production and agriculture, according to Professor Dupree.

Source: University of Cambridge

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