Table of Contents
ISRN Biotechnology
Volume 2013, Article ID 186534, 23 pages
Review Article

Linen Most Useful: Perspectives on Structure, Chemistry, and Enzymes for Retting Flax

Russell Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Athens, GA 30606, USA

Received 14 November 2012; Accepted 7 December 2012

Academic Editors: A. D’Annibale, S. Revah, C. Scheckhuber, and H. Stamatis

Copyright © 2013 Danny E. Akin. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The components of flax (Linum usitatissimum) stems are described and illustrated, with reference to the anatomy and chemical makeup and to applications in processing and products. Bast fiber, which is a major economic product of flax along with linseed and linseed oil, is described with particular reference to its application in textiles, composites, and specialty papers. A short history of retting methods, which is the separation of bast fiber from nonfiber components, is presented with emphasis on water retting, field retting (dew retting), and experimental methods. Past research on enzyme retting, particularly by the use of pectinases as a potential replacement for the current commercial practice of field retting, is reviewed. The importance and mechanism of Ca2+ chelators with pectinases in retting are described. Protocols are provided for retting of both fiber-type and linseed-type flax stems with different types of pectinases. Current and future applications are listed for use of a wide array of enzymes to improve processed fibers and blended yarns. Finally, potential lipid and aromatic coproducts derived from the dust and shive waste streams of fiber processing are indicated.