Pectins, complex polysaccharides rich in galacturonic acid, are a major component of primary plant cell walls. These macromolecules regulate cell wall porosity and intercellular adhesion, being important in the control of cell expansion and differentiation through their effect on the rheological properties of the cell wall. In fruits, pectin disassembly during ripening is one the main event leading to textural changes and softening. Changes in pectic polymer size, composition and structure have been studied by conventional techniques, most of them relying on bulk analysis of a population of polysaccharides but studies of detailed structure of isolated polymer chains are scarce (Paniagua et al., 2014). Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a versatile and powerful technique able to analyze force measurements, as well as to visualize roughness of biological samples at nanoscale (Morris et al., 2010). Using this technique, recent research has found a close relationship between pectin nanostructural complexity and texture and postharvest behavior in several fruits (Liu and Cheng, 2011; Cybulska et al., 2014; Pose et al., 2015). Here, we describe an AFM procedure to topographically visualize pectic polymers from fruit cell wall extracts that has successfully been used in the study of strawberry ripening (Pose et al., 2012; Pose et al., 2015). Thus, from AFM images the 3D structural analysis of isolated chains (length, height, and branch pattern) can be resolved at high magnification and with minimal sample preparation. A full description of AFM fundamentals and the different sampling modes are described in Morris et al. (2010).
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