Polysaccharide polymers like pectin can demonstrate striking and reversible changes in their physical properties depending upon relatively small changes in water content. Recent interest in using pectin polysaccharides as mesothelial sealants suggests that water content, rather than nonphysiologic changes in temperature, may be a practical approach to optimize the physical properties of the pectin biopolymers. Here, we used humidified environments to manipulate the water content of dispersed solution of pectins with a high degree of methyl esterification (high-methoxyl pectin; HMP). The gel phase transition was identified by a nonlinear increase in compression resistance at a water content of 50% (w/w). The gel phase was associated with a punched-out fracture pattern and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images that revealed a cribiform (Swiss cheese-like) pectin microstructure. The glass phase transition was identified by a marked increase in resilience and stiffness. The glass phase was associated with a star-burst fracture pattern and SEM images that demonstrated a homogeneous pectin microstructure. In contrast, the burst strength of the pectin films was largely independent of water content over a range from 5 to 30% (w/w). These observations indicate the potential to use water content in the selective regulation of the physical properties of HMP biopolymers.
Keywords: electron microscopy; fractography; pectin; polysaccharides.
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