For the first time in over 30 years, scientists have discovered a new type of complex carbohydrate that could have potential applications in food, medicine, and cosmetics.
Publishing their findings in the American Chemistry Society’s journal ACS Central Science, researchers at the University of Adelaide describe a new form of cereal polysaccharide derived from the cell wall of barley – one of the world’s most economically important crops. The complex carbohydrate is a combination of glucose, the most common simple sugar, and a component of dietary fiber called xylose. Based on its sugar proportions, the new carb is likely used by the plant to fortify the structure of its cell walls or to act as a viscous gel.
“Plant cell walls contain components that are of major interest for many industries such as renewable sources for energy production, composite materials or food products. Knowledge of this new polysaccharide will open up further research to determine its role in the plant,” said study author Alan Little in a statement, adding that its location in the roots of barley indicates it may “play a role in plant growth or resistance to external stresses such as salinity or disease.”
In plants, cell walls make up the structural integrity needed for cell growth, division, and differentiation. Found within these cell walls are carbohydrates made up of chains of bonded simple sugar molecules called polysaccharides. Existing polysaccharides have a wide range of uses, from providing dietary fiber for your oatmeal to keeping makeup neatly in its casing.
"The properties of the new polysaccharide could be manipulated to suit the desired function, increasing the range of potential uses," said Dr Little. “The genes involved in the biosynthesis of the new polysaccharide were also discovered as part of this work.
“We can now use this knowledge to find ways of increasing these polysaccharides in crops, providing the possibility of generating plant material with a range of potentially different physical properties for industrial applications."
Now that they have a general idea of how to identify the new carbohydrate, researchers say “it will be interesting to see how widespread the polysaccharide is in different plant species and to determine the physicochemical properties associated with its presence in the wall.”