Nanocellulose Tagging for High Performance Fluorescent Microscopy

In a paper published in the journal Biomacromolecules, a flexible and effective two-step method centered on triazine and azide-alkyne click-chemistry was devised for fluorescent labeling of nanoscale cellulose for use in microscopy applications.

Nanocellulose Tagging for High Performance Fluorescent Microscopy​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​Study: Efficient Labeling of Nanocellulose for High-Resolution Fluorescence Microscopy Applications. Image Credit: Pan Xunbin/

The Vast Potential of Cellulose Nanomaterials

Cellulose, a major constituent of the cell wall in plants, is the most abundantly available structured biopolymer on the planet and is used extensively in the architecture, fabric, and paper industry. Crystalline cellulose nanoparticles generated from biomass, such as cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) and cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs), have excellent thermal stability, tensile strength, and specific area.

Due to their unique features, sustainable nanoscale celluloses are already being employed in fields such as tissue engineering, nanomedicine, biosensors, biodegradable polymers, power storage, and water treatment.

Visualizing Nanocellulose Networks via Fluorescence Microscopy

The visualization of nanocellulose dispersion and dynamics within complicated frameworks is often required to use nanocelluloses in real world settings. If the nanocelluloses are luminous, fluorescent microscopy procedures may be used to visualize nanofibers and nanoparticles inside three-dimensional networks due to their sensitivity and selectivity.

According to a previous study, whenever fluorescent CNCs are utilized as medicine carriers, their absorption by macrophages and embryo cells can be tracked, and their biological distribution throughout tissues may be observed. The confocal microscopic technique has been used to study the dispersion of CNCs and their engagement with other elements in emerging bio-composites such as structural CNC polymeric hydrogels and CNC-protein-polymer frameworks.

Fluorescent cellulose has also been utilized to investigate the effects of pretreatment on the morphology, availability, and enzyme-triggered depolymerization of cellulose at high resolutions, hence helping to formulate effective biomass converting techniques.

However, modern scanning techniques such as multiphoton, light-sheet, and super-resolution imaging are seldom used in cellulose research. This is attributable, in part, to a lack of easy, quick, and inexpensive ways for fluorescent labeling of nanocelluloses without affecting their distinctive features.

Challenges Associated with Fluorescence Imaging of Nanocellulose

The difficulty of identifying cellulose in its original state stems from its chemically inert and insoluble nature. Cellulose is composed of linear β−1→4 anhydroglucose polymer (glucan) groups that form into densely packaged crystalline fibrils, showing insolubility in water due to an extensive hydrogen-bonding web.

According to documented fluorescent labeling techniques, the moderately responsive hydroxyl groups on the surface of cellulose are often derivatized with maleimide, amine, or N-hydroxysuccinimide groups which are responsive with supplementary moieties on commercially accessible pigments, and the tagging is carried out as a non-homogenous response.

Since most of these approaches rely on natural solvent swaps, which may promote nanocellulose agglomeration, triazinyl- and hydrazine-substituted fluorophores have been employed to generate aqueous single-step tagging procedures. Dichlorotriazinyl amino-fluorescein (DTAF), a widely accessible fluorophore that has been utilized to tag CNCs, CNFs, and bacterial cellulose (BC), is the most commonly employed pigment in these processes.

This labeling method is inefficient since it competes for hydrolysis processes in aqueous conditions, requiring a considerable surplus of DTAF to obtain significant labeling concentrations. The poor labeling effectiveness of DTAF, combined with its inadequate photostability, has also hampered its usage in high-resolution fluorescent microscopy.

Highlights of the Study

In this study, the researchers developed effective labeling techniques based on triazine linkers, allowing them to perform high-resolution fluorescent imaging on a range of nanocellulose materials. Initially, the fabrication of a novel triazine-based pigment, dichlorotriaznyl piperazine rhodamine (DTPR) was described, allowing cellulose to be labeled with a high-performing fluorophore in a single step.

A two-step triazine- and click-chemistry process was then used to label nanocellulose, avoiding complicated fabrication and lowering tagging costs. The second phase, specifically, required an effective click-reaction which could be done with any commonly obtainable pigment having azide activity. This enabled the employment of a diverse set of fluorophores in cellulose research.

Thanks to the capability of labeling cellulosic materials to varying extents while maintaining the original features of nanocellulose, this approach may be used to tag cellulose for a variety of fluorescence-based investigations and scanning purposes.

The versatility provided by triazine chemistry may also be employed to build bifunctional linkers that enable pigment labeling of nanocellulose for visualizing needs while also introducing a second activity that may be utilized for binding, cross-linkage, or sensing.

The approaches presented should give labeling avenues for visualizing cellulose nanoparticles, which are employed in a wide array of applications.


Babi, M., Fatona, A., Li, X., Cerson, C., Jarvis, V. M., Abitbol, T., & Moran-Mirabal, J. M. (2022). Efficient Labeling of Nanocellulose for High-Resolution Fluorescence Microscopy Applications. Biomacromolecules. Available at:

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Shaheer Rehan

Written by

Shaheer Rehan

Shaheer is a graduate of Aerospace Engineering from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad. He has carried out research on a wide range of subjects including Aerospace Instruments and Sensors, Computational Dynamics, Aerospace Structures and Materials, Optimization Techniques, Robotics, and Clean Energy. He has been working as a freelance consultant in Aerospace Engineering for the past year. Technical Writing has always been a strong suit of Shaheer's. He has excelled at whatever he has attempted, from winning accolades on the international stage in match competitions to winning local writing competitions. Shaheer loves cars. From following Formula 1 and reading up on automotive journalism to racing in go-karts himself, his life revolves around cars. He is passionate about his sports and makes sure to always spare time for them. Squash, football, cricket, tennis, and racing are the hobbies he loves to spend his time in.


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