Lignin: Definition, Properties & Function

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  • 0:00 What Is Lignin?
  • 0:55 Properties & Functions…
  • 1:59 Human Uses of Lignin
  • 2:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

You're probably more familiar with lignin than you think! I see sources of it outside my window and even right on my table next to me. So, what is lignin? Complete this lesson to learn what lignin is, where you can find it, and why it is so useful and abundant!

What Is Lignin?

Look out your window right now. Go ahead; you have time. Do you see trees? If so, then you are looking at lignin!

Lignin is found in the cells, cell walls, and between the cells of all vascular plants. Lignin is responsible for what we call fiber in our food, and it gives veggies that satisfying crunch and trees that woody feature. In fact, the word lignin comes from the Latin word meaning wood, making it pretty self-explanatory! Plants need lignin to transport liquids throughout the plant; it reinforces the cell walls and keeps them from collapsing, allowing plants to grow upright (think of trees!). Lignin allows liquids to rise up the plant, and it allows wastes to be carried out of the plant.

Properties and Functions of Lignin

Lignin is a complex polymer of monolignols (which are aromatic alcohols). It is insoluble in water and alcohol, but soluble in weak alkaline solutions. It is the second most abundant organic polymer on Earth (behind cellulose, another plant component) and makes up about 30% of non-fossilized organic carbon. Not all plants have the same lignin content; it varies based on species, and bryophytes (like some mosses) do not have any lignin at all. Lignin is responsible for capturing atmospheric carbon and storing it in the tissues of woody vegetation. It decomposes very slowly and increases soil moisture retention. As we already mentioned, lignin is responsible for providing the sturdy structure of plants as well as transporting liquids throughout the living plant tissues. Though lignin is found throughout the plant, it is most prevalent in between the cells, providing this structural support.

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