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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Cotton Structure and Quality Research

Title: Cellulose and the twofold screw axis: Modeling and experimental arguments

item French, Alfred
item Johnson, Glenn

Submitted to: Cellulose
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 19, 2009
Publication Date: August 12, 2009
Citation: French, A.D., Johnson, G.P. 2009. Cellulose and the twofold screw axis: Modeling and experimental arguments. Cellulose. 16:959-973.

Interpretive Summary: Cotton fibers are made mostly of cellulose, and understanding the structure of the cellulose molecules is key to explaining the chemical and physical properties of cotton fibers. This work seeks more information about the fundamental structure of cellulose by combining information from computerized molecular models and laboratory experiments regarding the exact shape of the cellulose molecule, specifically whether it is twisted or not. If twisted, that would be a possible explanation for the computer models of entire cellulose crystals, which are also twisted. These studies indicate that an untwisted shape is compatible with the information that was used in this study.

Technical Abstract: Crystallography indicates that molecules in crystalline cellulose either have 2-fold screw-axis (21) symmetry or closely approximate it, leading to short distances between H4 and H1' across the glycosidic linkage. Therefore, modeling studies of cellobiose often show elevated energies for 21 structures, and experimental observations are often interpreted in terms of intramolecular strain. Also, some computer models of cellulose crystallites have an overall twist as well as twisted individual chains, again violating 21 symmetry. To gain insight on the question of inherent strain in 21 structures, modeling was employed and crystal structures of small molecules were surveyed. (Residues in a disaccharide cannot be related by 21 symmetry because they are not identical but if their linkage geometry would lead to 21 symmetry for an infinite cellulose chain, the disaccharide would have 21 pseudo symmetry.) Several initial structures in quantum mechanics (QM) studies of cellobiose minimized to structures having 21 pseudo symmetry. Similarly, a number of relevant small molecules in experimental crystal structures have pseudo symmetry. While the QM models of cellobiose with 21 pseudo symmetry had inter-residue hydrogen bonding, the experimental studies included cellotriose undecaacetate, a molecule that cannot form conventional hydrogen bonds. Limitations in characterizing symmetry based on the linkage torsion angles ' and ' were also explored. It is concluded that 21 structures have little intrinsic strain, despite indications from empirical models.

Last Modified: 4/20/2014
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