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Plant surfaces and interfaces: lignin, suberin and cutin

Project Leader
Gierlinger Notburga, Project Leader
Type of Research
Basic Research
Stefke Barbara, Project Staff (bis 12.01.2017)
Prats Mateu Batirtze, Project Staff (bis 31.12.2018)
Felhofer Martin, Project Staff (bis 30.06.2022)
Sasani Nadia, Project Staff (bis 31.03.2022)
Morel Oriane Danielle Chantal, Project Staff
BOKU Research Units
Institute of Biophysik
Institute of Physics and Material Science
Funded by
Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF) , Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria
As plants evolved from aquatic to terrestrial environment complex phenolic compounds (lignin, extractives) and natural polyesters (cutin, suberin) have played a major role by building hydrophobic surfaces and interfaces. Adaptation to survive in the great variety of habitats has resulted in quite diverse body plans. Tissues with distinct properties and functions are achieved by changing composition and structure at the different hierarchical levels (mm-μm-nm). Although general principles of the three compounds are known, they are the least understood plant polymers due to their high variability in amount and structure and unknown distribution and interaction on the micro- and nano-level as well as unsolved questions regarding polymerisation.
We will bridge the knowledge gap on the microchemistry by Raman microspectroscopy (imaging) and elucidate nanostructure and -mechanics by Atomic force microscopy (AFM). Raman spectroscopy is based on the interaction of laser light with molecular vibrations, resulting in the energy of the laser photons being shifted up or down. The energy shift (Raman spectrum) gives information about the vibrational modes and thus molecular structure. In the Raman imaging approach plant samples cut with a microtome are scanned and different images calculated based on the thousands of Raman spectra acquired from the region of interest. These images represent chemical and structural information with a spatial resolution of ≈ 0.3µm (diffraction limit of the laser light) in context with plant anatomy. The same region will be scanned with a sharp tip using AFM to reveal the surface properties at nano-resolution. To drive the chemical information below the diffraction limit of the laser light both methods can be combined to the challenging tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS) technique.
With these sophisticated in-situ approaches we will 1) follow the lignification to tackle unsolved questions of lignin polymerisation, 2) reveal the chemistry and structure of tracheid and vessel walls on the micro- and nano-level and its implications on hydraulic and mechanical properties, 3) investigate the microchemistry and nanostructure of suberized and cutinized layers and their relation to barrier properties, 4) additionally assess the impact of water stress as drought is becoming more and more a limiting factor for tree growth. New insights into the micro and nano distribution and composition of the plant polymers and the impact of drought stress will be gained and important structure-function relationships revealed. This will break new scientific grounds in the field of plant physiology and wood science, will have an impact on optimised plant feedstock development (forestry, agriculture, breeding, genetic engineering) as well as utilisation (biorefinery, pulp and paper, biopolymers) and inspire new biomimetic approaches.

** Gierlinger, N Revealing changes in molecular composition of plant cell walls on the micron-level by Raman mapping and vertex component analysis (VCA).

FRONT PLANT SCI. 2014; 5: WoS PubMed PUBMED Central FullText FullText_BOKU

Prats Mateu, B; Stefke, B; Hauser, M-T; Gierlinger, N (2014): Elucidating structural and compositional changes in plant tissues and single cells by Raman spectroscopic imaging..

Spectroscopy Europe, 26, 11-14; ISSN 0966-0941 FullText

Gierlinger N (2014): Chemistry and nano-structure of xylem: new insights and challenges by Raman imaging and Atomic force microscopy.
[20. Tagung der Austrian Society of Plant Biology (ATSPB), Lunz am See, Austria, 19.06.2014 - 21.06.2014]

In: Austrian Society of Plant Biology (ATSPB), 20. Tagung der Austrian Society of Plant Biology

Gierlinger N (2014): Imaging in-situ molecular structure of cells by Confocal Raman microscopy.
[NanoBio&Med 2014, Barcelona, Spain, 18.11.2014 - 21.11.2014]

In: Phantoms Foundation, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, niversity of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, NanoBio&Med 2014

Gierlinger N, Prats Mateau B, Stefke B, Burgert I (2014): Studying in situ lignification in newly formed xylem cells by Confocal Raman microscopy.
[LIGNIN 2014 – From biosynthesis to utilization, Umea, Sweden, 24.08.2014 - 28.08.2014]

In: Umea Plant Science Centre and Bio4Energy, LIGNIN2014: From biosynthesis to utilisation


Gierlinger, N (2019): The puzzle of the walnut shells: curvature for interlocking.

Curvature & Biology Workshop, FEB 6-8, 2019, Salzburg, AUSTRIA

Gierlinger, N (2019): Raman imaging of plant cell walls: where we stand and how to move forward.

2nd International Plant Spectroscopy Conference, MAR 24-28, 2019, Berlin, GERMANY

Gierlinger, N (2019): Potential and challenges of Confocal Raman and correlative Imaging in Plant Sciences.

Lunch & Lern (Witec), 2nd International Plant Spectroscopy Conference, MAR 24-28, 2019, Berlin, GERMANY

Gierlinger, N (2019): Raman-Mikroskopie an Pflanzenzellen: Chemische Bilder basierend auf Molekülschwingungen.

Symposium “Moderne bildgebende Verfahren”, OCT 1, 2019, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW) Vienna, AUSTRIA

Gierlinger, N (2019): Tip in – light on: Insights into plant cell walls on the micro and nanolevel.

Wood Wallenberg Center, FEB 11, 2019, Stockholm, SWEDEN

Gierlinger, N (2018): Following molecules in context with micro- and nanostructure and their changes upon laser irradiation.

Wood Nanotechnology conference, SEPT 2-5, 2018, Ascona, SWITZERLAND

Gierlinger, N (2017): Raman scattering and scanning probe approaches on biological materials: principles & prospects.

Seminar at the Institut für Physik, DEZ 19, 2017, MU Leoben, AUSTRIA

Gierlinger, N (2017): Raman imaging and Fingerprints of plant cell walls: principles & prospects.

Seminar at the DAGZ, DEZ 12, 2017, Vienna, Austria

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