In vivo cellulose ribbon assembly by the Gram-negative bacterium Acetobacter xylinum can be altered by incubation in carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), a negatively charged water-soluble cellulose derivative, and also by incubation in a variety of neutral, water-soluble cellulose derivatives. In the presence of all of these substituted celluloses, normal fasciation of microfibril bundles to form the typical twisting ribbon is prevented. Alteration of ribbon assembly is most extensive in the presence of CMC, which often induces synthesis of separate, intertwining bundles of microfibrils. Freeze-etch preparations of the bacterial outer membrane suggest that particles that are thought to be associated with cellulose synthesis or extrusion may be specifically organized to mediate synthesis of microfibril bundles. These data support the previous hypothesis that the cellulose ribbon of A. xylinum is formed by a hierarchical, cell-directed, self-assembly process. The relationship of these results to the regulation of cellulose microfibril size and wall extensibility in plant cell walls is discussed.

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