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Proceedings Paper

Genetic and environmental modification of the mechanical properties of wood
Author(s): R. Sederoff; I. Allona; R. Whetten
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Paper Abstract

Wood is one of the nation's leading raw materials and is used for a wide variety of products, either directly as wood, or as derived materials in pulp and paper. Wood is a biological material and evolved to provide mechanical support and water transport to the early plants that conquered the land. Wood is a tissue that results from the differentiation and programmed cell death of cells that derive from a tissue known as the vascular cambium. The vascular cambium is a thin cylinder of undifferentiated tissue in plant stems and roots that gives rise to several different cell types. Cells that differentiate on the internal side of the cambium form xylem, a tissue composed in major part, of long thin cells that die leaving a network of interconnected cell walls that serve to transport water and to provide mechanical support for the woody plant. The shape and chemical composition of the cells in xylem are well suited for these functions. The structure of cells in xylem determines the mechanical properties of the wood because of the strength derived from the reinforced matrix of the wall. The hydrophobic phenolic surface of the inside of the cell walls is essential to maintain surface tension upon which water transport is based and to resist decay caused by microorganisms. The properties of wood derived from the function of xylem also determine its structural and chemical properties as wood and paper products. Therefore, the physical and chemical properties of wood and paper products also depend on the morphology and composition of the cells from which they are derived. Wood (xylem cell walls) is an anisotropic material, a composite of lignocellulose. It is a matrix of cellulose microfibrils, complexed with hemicelluloses, (carbohydrate polymers which contain sugars other than glucose, both pentoses and hexoses), embedded together in a phenolic matrix of lignin. The high tensile strength of wood in the longitudinal direction, is due to the structure of cellulose and the orientation of the cellulose microfibrils. Lignin provides the embedding matrix that imparts compressive strength and flexibility. The water conducting cells in xylem, the tracheids, are long thin cells, which become the fibers of paper when the lignin is removed from wood during the papermaking process. The length of the tracheids and the thickness of the walls have important effects on the properties of paper that is produced. The past two decades have marked a revolutionary period in biological sciences due to the development of gene splicing techniques. These methods have led to the directed engineering of organisms to develop new industrial products. The technology has been used to produce a wide variety of new pharmaceuticals and transgenic plants and animals. This technology is now also being applied to forest trees.

Paper Details

Date Published: 9 February 1996
PDF: 3 pages
Proc. SPIE 2716, Smart Structures and Materials 1996: Smart Materials Technologies and Biomimetics, (9 February 1996); doi: 10.1117/12.232155
Show Author Affiliations
R. Sederoff, North Carolina State Univ. (United States)
I. Allona, North Carolina State Univ. (United States)
R. Whetten, North Carolina State Univ. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 2716:
Smart Structures and Materials 1996: Smart Materials Technologies and Biomimetics
Andrew Crowson, Editor(s)

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