Australian researchers have discovered a new type of complex carbohydrate in barley that they believe have potential applications in medicine, food, and even cosmetics.
The new polysaccharide — a carbohydrate made up of chains of simple sugar molecules — is the first of its kind to be discovered in more than three decades.
Details of the new discovery were published in the journal ACS Central Science.
A New Type Of Carbohydrates
According to the researchers, the new polysaccharide is a mix of glucose and xylose. They still cannot determine the role it plays in the plant but based on the relative proportions of each sugar, it can either provide a structural component of the wall or appear as a viscous gel.
The hybrid carbohydrate was found in the roots of barley which suggests that it plays a role in the growth of the plant. The new polysaccharide might also provide resistance to external stressors such as salinity, but researchers admit that they need to further explore the discovery to form a conclusion.
"By observing natural variation of the polysaccharide in different cereal crops we will aim to identify links to important agricultural traits," explained Alan Little, a senior research scientist at the University of Adelaide's Waite campus.
The researchers also believe that several industries would be interested in the potential uses of the new complex carbohydrate. Other polysaccharides are known to have a wide range of uses, especially in food. Polysaccharides improve the quality of nutrients in certain food such as the dietary fibers in porridge.
"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," added Dr. Little.
Other polysaccharides are also being used extensively in the biomedical and cosmetics industry.
During the study, the researchers also discovered genes linked to the biosynthesis of the polysaccharide in barley. The same genes, they said, can be found in all major cereal crops.
With this new knowledge, the researchers hope to increase these polysaccharides in crops and, therefore, generate enough plant material for different industrial applications.