Cellulose in Plants Structure & Function

Ranaa Aboumosallam Arafat, Elizabeth Friedl
  • Author
    Ranaa Aboumosallam Arafat

    I took pre-masters and diploma in Microbiology, Human Physiology and Endocrinology. I got accepted to start my masters next fall at the University of Manitoba in Biology. I wrote lessons for Michigan virutal and I worked as a biology teacher for one year. Moreover, I wrote scientific explainers and presentations for several educational platforms.

  • Instructor
    Elizabeth Friedl

    Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Learn the definition of cellulose and understand its function in the development of plants. Discover cellulose structure and see where cellulose is found. Updated: 06/01/2022

Table of Contents


What is Cellulose in Plants?

The most important structural component of plant cell walls is cellulose. Cellulose is a carbohydrate found in the cell wall of plants. The carbohydrate is a polysaccharide structure. Polysaccharide is made up of a long chain of several sugar units bonded together by chemical linkage. Polysaccharides examples are chitin, glycogen, cellulose, and starch. On average, a dry plant comprises 40 to 50 percent cellulose. Cellulose aids plants in remaining rigid and erect and is the most prevalent macromolecule and organic compound on the planet. Cellulose is composed of glucose units and is used as a primary ingredient in many industrial goods.

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Where is Cellulose Found?

The cell wall of plants and their organs such as fruits, leaves, and vegetables contain cellulose. Cellulose is also found naturally in fibrous items such as cotton. It is a significant structural component of lower and higher plant cell walls. Stems, as well as other woody portions of plants, have high cellulose concentrations. Cellulose is the most prevalent naturally occurring organic substance, accounting for approximately 33%, 50%, and 90% of all vegetative plants, cotton, and wood, respectively.

Cellulose gives plant cells their stiffness as it determines the shape of the plant and allows the plant to grow upright. It also serves as a joining between cells to produce tissues. It has a role in signaling and stimulation growth and cell division as well. Cellulose provides strength to the stem, branches, and leaves of plants. Cellulose is also present in the cell walls of fungi and alga, but relatively rare in bacteria. Bacteria from the genus of Agrobacterium, Sacrina, and Rhizobium produce and synthesize cellulose.

History of Cellulose

Cellulose was extracted from plants by the French scientist Anselme Payen in 1838. The French chemist contributed to the world of chemistry by discovering the cellulose molecule. He discovered it by using a charcoal filter that decolors sugars and when he was analyzing the structure of wood. Payen also figured out the chemical formula of cellulose. Hyatt Manufacturing Company used cellulose to make the first thermoplastic polymer which is called celluloid in the late 1870s.

Cellulose Structure

Cellulose is an oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen-containing complex carbohydrate polymer. The polymer of cellulose is linear. The linear polymer contains glucan comprised of about 10,000 glucose units. These glucose units are joined to each other by B-1,4 glycosidic linkage. Cellulose fibers are long, straight polymers made up of polysaccharide which is made of hundreds of glucose molecules. These fibers combine to produce microfibrils, which are bundles of roughly 40 fibers. Each alternative glucose molecule is flipped. Microfibrils are formed by stacking these chains in parallel and the parallel chains are joined by hydrogen bonds. This results in lengthy, wire structures that join with other cellulose molecules to generate rigid and stiff cellulose. This overall structure contributes to cellulose's remarkable mechanical strength.

A ball-and-stick representation showing cellulose crystal structure

A ball-and-stick representation showing cellulose crystal structure

Cellulose Properties

Cellulose has important and unique properties and characteristics which include the following:

  • Cellulose is an organic compound made up of polysaccharides consisting of several glucose units.
  • Cellulose does not dissolve in water.
  • Cellulose has a white color.
  • Cellulose dissolves in organic solvents and strong acids.
  • Cellulose has a physical powder appearance.
  • Cellulose is very strong due to the formation of hydrogen bonds.
  • Cellulose has crystalline-ordered polysaccharide linear chains.
  • Cellulose has no taste or odor.
  • Cellulose is biodegradable which means it can be degraded by bacteria and other microorganisms.
  • Cellulose can be broken down to glucose under high temperature and mineral acid treatment.
  • Cellulose's chemical formula is (C6H10O5)n.

Cellulose Functions

Cellulose is not important to plants only, it is also important to humans as well. The following points demonstrate the importance of cellulose to plants and humans:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the structure and properties of cellulose?

Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate polymer that contains oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. The cellulose polymer is linear. The linear polymer comprises glucan, which is made up of around 10,000 glucose units. These glucose units are linked together by a B-1,4 glycosidic bond. Cellulose fibers are long, straight polymers composed of a polysaccharide composed of hundreds of glucose molecules. The properties of cellulose are insolubility in water, crystal form, white powdery color, and biodegradable.

Where is cellulose in plant cells?

Cellulose is found in the cell walls of plants and their organs such as fruits, leaves, and vegetables. Cellulose is naturally present in fibrous materials such as cotton. It is an important structural component of both lower and upper plant cell walls. Plant stems and other woody parts have high cellulose concentrations.

What is cellulose used for?

It is used as a preservative in the cheese industry, in nitrocellulose manufacturing which is used in paints, as a biofuel, in the paper and wood industry, in pharmaceutical products, and fabrics such as rayon. It is also used as an important supplement in the diet as it is enriched with insoluble fibers important for digestion.

What are the functions of cellulose?

The plant cell wall contains an essential structure called cellulose. It gives the plant strength, aids in upright growth, and is also necessary for plant cell division. It is also used in various applications such as paper and textile.

What gives cellulose its structure?

Cellulose fibers are long, straight polymers composed of a polysaccharide composed of hundreds of glucose molecules. These fibers combine to produce microfibrils, which are bundles of roughly 40 fibers. Microfibrils are created by stacking these chains parallel and connecting them with hydrogen bonds. This produces long, wire structures that combine with other cellulose molecules to form hard, stiff cellulose. This overall structure contributes to the exceptional mechanical strength of cellulose.

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