Analysis of retted and non retted flax fibres by chemical and enzymatic means

C. Mooney, T. Stolle-Smits, H.A. Schols, E.J. de Jong

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Flax fibres (Linum usitatissimum L.) were subjected to chemical and enzymatic analysis in order to determine the compositional changes brought about by the retting process and also to determine the accessibility of the fibre polymers to enzymatic treatment. Chemical analysis involved subjecting both retted and non retted fibres to a series of sequential chemical extractions with 1% ammonium oxalate, 0.05 M KOH, 1 M KOH and 4 M KOH. Retting was shown to cause minimal weight loss from the fibres but caused significant changes to the pectic polymers present. Retted fibres were shown to have significantly lower amounts of rhamnogalacturonan as well as arabinan and xylan. In addition the average molecular mass of the pectic extracts was considerably lowered. Enzyme treatment of the 1 M KOH extracts with two different enzymes demonstrated that the non retted extract contained a relatively high molecular weight xylan not found in the retted extract. Treatment of the 1 M KOH extracts and the fibres with Endoglucanase V from Trichoderma viride demonstrated that while this enzyme solubilised cellulose as well as xylan and xyloglucan oligomers from the extract, it had limited access to these polymers on the fibre. MALDI-TOF MS analysis of the material solubilised from the extract suggested that the xylan was randomly substituted with 4-O-methyl glucuronic acid moieties. The xyloglucan was shown to be of the XXXG type and was substituted with galactose and fucose units. The enzyme treatments of the fibres demonstrated that the xylan and xyloglucan polymers in the fibres were not accessible to the enzyme but that material which was entrapped by the cellulose could be released by the hydrolysis of this cellulose.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-216
JournalJournal of Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Endoglucanase
  • Flax
  • Glucuronoxylan
  • Linum usitatissimum
  • Retting
  • Rhamnogalacturonan


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