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Acid hydrolysis of cellulose

  1. Mar 10, 2012 #1
    It is often claimed that one of the primary reasons paper degrades in books is due to acid hydrolysis of cellulose. If this is true, then why can't humans digest cellulose easily if cellulose can be easily broken down via acid hydrolysis alone (acid in the stomach)? Acid hydrolysis breakdown of paper does likely play a role in paper degradation, but is it possible conservation science has missed a key step? Could enzymes, either from bacteria, fungi, etc, be involved first?
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2012 #2


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    Paper breaks down (long-term) because of the chemical residues left from the production of that paper and/or the susceptibility of that paper to attack by outside influences. If you want to understand this, you should research the Kraft pulping cycle, the sulfite process, and other mechanical/chemical pulping processes. You can buy books produced before the Civil War that will last for generations, while many books made in the late 1800s or early 1900s will brown and fall apart despite all steps to save them.
  4. Mar 10, 2012 #3


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    Most cellulose is very crystalline and stabilized fairly strongly by hydrogen bonding. It is also associated with lignin which protects the polymer from hydrolysis. I think you'll find that animals that can digest cellulose have fairly long residence times in the gut and even then a lot is passed undigested.
  5. Mar 10, 2012 #4
    I have come across some journal articles I'm reading that describe the breakdown of cellulose due to enzymes that require copper cofactors in order to be activated. Copper residue is found in paper, correct? Many claim that paper decomposes due either to acid-hydrolysis or metal catalyzed acid hydrolysis. I'm just wondering why it is true, because if it were, then why can't humans and other animals easily breakdown cellulose via acid hydrolysis mechanisms without the aid of enzymes? Is there a certain enzyme conservationists are missing that is involved in the degradation of paper that comes from bacteria or fungi?
  6. Mar 10, 2012 #5


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    Start searching on libraries and paper degradation. You will be busy for a while.
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