The digestibilities of grass cell wall constituents determined in a digestion trial were compared with those obtained by suspending various isolated cell wall preparations in nylon bags in the rumen of a sheep. Particular attention was paid to acetyl groups and to individual sugars, which were determined in both cases by gas liquid chromatography.
For dried grass and hay in the digestion trial the cell wall constituents showed digestibilities decreasing in the following order: arabinose, galactose, glucose, xylose, acetyl, lignin.
For a leaf cell wall preparation derived from all cell types except mesophyll, the nylon bag technique allowed the same order of digestibilities; rhamnose and uronic acids were also measured and found to be rapidly digested. Mesophyll cell walls placed in nylon bags were more readily digested than non-mesophyll. All the sugars, and also acetyl groups, were digested to the same extent.
In a grass cell wall preparation isolated from sheep faeces, tested similarly, xylose and glucose were digested to the same extent, but acetyl groups were less digested.
Removal of acetyl groups, using sodium ethoxide, which left the sugar composition and lignin content unchanged, increased the digestibility particularly of the cell walls from faeces.
The results are discussed with reference to the relationship between cell wall composition and digestibility.