The influence of water on the nanomechanical behavior of the plant biopolyester cutin as studied by AFM and solid-state NMR.
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Atomic force microscopy and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance have been used to investigate the effect of water absorption on the nanoscale elastic properties of the biopolyester, cutin, isolated from tomato fruit cuticle. Changes in the humidity and temperature at which fruits are grown or stored can affect the plant surface (cuticle) and modify its susceptibility to pathogenic attack by altering the cuticle's rheological properties. In this work, atomic force microscopy measurements of the surface mechanical properties of isolated plant cutin have been made as a first step to probing the impact of water uptake from the environment on surface flexibility. A dramatic decrease in surface elastic modulus (from approximately 32 to approximately 6 MPa) accompanies increases in water content as small as 2 wt %. Complementary solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance measurements reveal enhanced local mobility of the acyl chain segments with increasing water content, even at molecular sites remote from the covalent cross-links that are likely to play a crucial role in cutin's elastic properties.