Portrait of Michael Amos Wilson.

32: Funeral Arrangements for Plants: An Essay in Organic Geochemistry

Michael Amos Wilson, G S Kamali Kannangara, Damian E Smeulders


This paper is based on the Liversidge Research Lecture presented before the Royal Society of New South Wales by Professor Michael A. Wilson on 5th July, 2000. Reproduced by permission of the Royal Society of New South Wales from J. Proc. Roy. Soc. N.S.W., 2000, 133, 71-85.

"Organic geochemistry literally is the dead end of science since it is concerned with the transformation of decaying plant material into humic substances, coal, petroleum and natural gas. The transformation process is primarily controlled by the possible degree of oxidation. Under reducing conditions coal and gas are formed and under oxidising conditions humic material is formed. Not surprisingly, the nature of the input vegetation also has an effect on the type of decomposed organic matter produced. One new finding for oxidising environments reported here, is the concept of a host-guest structures where smaller molecules reside within a framework of a macromolecular host primarily derived from lignin. The guests within the host cannot be removed by physical separation. The structure of the host can be determined by pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques. Differential thermal analysis, calorimetry, methylation and gas chromatography mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance data can be used to identify the guests. Some of the guests are probably held by hydrogen bonding but others are true prisoners in that they are alkanes and hence have no binding sites."

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