University of Adelaide researchers have 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 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, located at the University Waite campus, have the potential to be exploited for many uses.
"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
"Knowledge of this new polysaccharide will open up further research to determine its role in the plant.
"We know that it can be found in the roots of barley, suggesting it could 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 mixture of glucose, commonly found in cellulose, and xylose, which is 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 required to understand the new polysaccharide's potential uses. Existing polysaccharides have a wide range of uses. They improve the quality of dietary fiber in porridge and are also widely used 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 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 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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