A Naturally Produced Chemically Modified Cellulose

The physical and chemical integrity of plant cell walls depends on cellulose assembly. Micro-organisms are also major producers of cellulose which in the context of a complex multicellular macromolecular community participates in matrix assembly and biofilm architecture. The elucidation of the genetic and protein mechanisms of cellulose biosynthesis in bacteria is slowly being unraveled as is the structural characterization of the cellulosic material. The cellulose in biofilms, as those produced by many bacteria, was assumed to be the same of those previously characterized. However, the use of solid-state magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed that Escherichia coli produces a chemically modified cellulose in which every other glucosyl residue carries an additional phosphoethanolamine group.

These findings may have important implications for a wide variety of disciplines, from microbiology to materials science. New opportunities may be offered to modulate cellulose production in bacteria or to inspire efforts to biosynthetically engineer modified cellulosic materials.