Anglia Ruskin University

File(s) not publicly available

Position-specific measurement of oxygen isotope ratios in cellulose: Isotopic exchange during heterotrophic cellulose synthesis

journal contribution
posted on 2023-07-26, 13:29 authored by John S. Waterhouse, Shuying Cheng, Dieter Juchelka, Neil J. Loader, Danny McCarroll, V. Roy Switsur, Lata Gautam
We describe the first reported method for the measurement of oxygen isotope ratios at each position in the glucose units of the cellulose molecule. The overall process comprises a series of synthetic organic sequences, by which α-cellulose is hydrolysed to glucose, and oxygen atoms at specific positions in the glucose molecule are removed in samples of benzoic acid for measurement of δ18O. Values of δ18O at specific positions in cellulose are calculated from these δ18O values and the overall δ18O value of the cellulose. We apply the method to determine the degree to which oxygen atoms at each position undergo isotopic exchange with water during heterotrophic cellulose synthesis, such as occurs in the cambium of trees. To do this we extract α-cellulose from wheat seedlings germinated in the dark in aqueous media of differing oxygen isotope ratios. Results indicate that oxygen atoms at positions 5 and 6 (O-5 and O-6 respectively) undergo around 80% exchange with medium water, O-3 undergoes around 50% exchange, and O-2 and O-4 do not undergo isotopic exchange. The results have important implications for extracting palaeoclimatic records from oxygen isotope time series obtained from tree ring cellulose. As O-5 and O-6 undergo significant exchange with medium water during heterotrophic cellulose synthesis, oxygen isotopes at these positions in tree ring cellulose should carry a predominantly trunk (source) water signal. On the other hand, O-2 and O-4 should retain the isotopic signature of leaf water in tree ring cellulose. Our method therefore potentially enables the separate reconstruction of past temperature and humidity data from oxygen isotope ratios of tree ring cellulose – something that has hitherto not been possible. The measured degrees of isotopic exchange are to some extent unexpected and cannot be fully explained using current biochemical mechanisms, suggesting that knowledge of these processes is incomplete.



  • Yes



Page range


Publication title

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta






  • other

Legacy posted date


Legacy Faculty/School/Department

ARCHIVED Faculty of Science & Technology (until September 2018)

Usage metrics

    ARU Outputs


    No categories selected