Researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered a new complex carbohydrate in barley. The first of its kind to be discovered in over 30 years, the cereal polysaccharide has potential applications in food, medicine and cosmetics.
The research of the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine of the University of Adelaide was published in the American Chemistry Society Central Science ACS.
The new polysaccharide, discovered by senior researcher Dr. Alan Little and the team at ARC's former Center for Plant Cell Excellence, located on the University campus in Waite, has the potential to be exploited for many uses.
"Plant cell walls contain components that are of great interest to many industries, such as renewable energy sources, composite materials, or food products," says Dr. Little.
"Knowledge of this new polysaccharide will open more research to determine its role in the plant.
"We know that it can be found in the roots of barley, suggesting that it may play a role in plant growth or resistance to external stresses, such as salinity or disease.
"By observing the natural variation of the polysaccharide in different cereal crops, we will aim to identify the links with important agricultural characteristics," says Dr. Little.
The new polysaccharide is a mixture of glucose, commonly found in cellulose, and xylose, found in dietary fiber. Based on the relative proportions of each sugar, the hybrid polysaccharide has the potential to behave as a structural component of the wall, providing strength or, conversely, as a viscous gel.
Further research is needed to understand the possible uses of the new polysaccharide. Existing polysaccharides have a wide range of uses. They improve the quality of dietary fiber in porridge and are also used extensively in biomedical and cosmetic applications.
"The properties of the new polysaccharide can be manipulated to suit the desired function, increasing the range of potential uses," says Dr. Little.
The genes involved in the biosynthesis of the new polysaccharide were also discovered as part of this work. The same genes can be found in all major cereal crops – not just barley.
"We can now use this knowledge to find ways to increase these polysaccharides in crops by offering the possibility of generating plant material with a range of potentially different physical properties for industrial applications."
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