Science

New complex carbohydrate discovered in barley

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered a new complex carbohydrate in barley. The first of its sort to be discovered in more than 30 years, the cereal polysaccharide has potential applications in food, medicine and cosmetics.

The research by the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, has been published in the American Chemistry Society journal ACS Central Science.

The new polysaccharide, discovered by Senior Research Scientist Dr Alan Little, and the team at the former ARC Center of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls, situated at the University’s Waite campus, can possibly be abused for some employments.

“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,” says Dr Little.

Learning of this new polysaccharide will open up further research to decide its job in the plant.

“We know that it can be found in the roots of barley suggesting it may play a role in plant growth or resistance to external stresses such as salinity or disease.”

“By observing natural variation of the polysaccharide in different cereal crops we will aim to identify links to important agricultural traits,” says Dr Little.

The new polysaccharide is a mix of glucose, usually found in cellulose, and xylose, which is found in dietary fiber. In view of the relative proportions of each sugar, the hybrid polysaccharide can possibly carry on as a structural component of the wall giving quality or conversely as a viscous gel.

Further research is required to understand the new polysaccharide’s potential uses. Existing polysaccharides have a wide scope of uses. They enhance the quality of dietary fiber in porridge and are additionally utilized widely in biomedical and cosmetic applications.

“The properties of the new polysaccharide could be manipulated to suit the desired function, increasing the range of potential uses,” says Dr Little.

The genes engaged with the biosynthesis of the new polysaccharide were likewise discovered as a part of this work.

Similar genes can be found in all major cereal crops – not simply barley.

“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.”

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