ADELAIDE, Australia—An international team of scientists, led by Prof. Rachel Burton from the University of Adelaide in South Australia and Prof. Alison Roberts of the University of Rhode Island, was looking into the evolutionary history of beta glucan when they made a discovery that could have potential in therapeutics options and drug delivery, among other areas.
Beta glucan, a polysaccharide, is a dietary fiber that is known to have various health benefits—in fact, it is used in some medicines for such conditions as diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and cancer—and the compound is abundant in cereals such as oats and barley. But thus far it is not known to have been found in moss, despite the plants having similar relevant genes.
But, scientific curiosity being what it is, the researchers took one of these similar genes from moss to see if it would lead to the production of beta glucan as in the case of oats and barley.
“What we found was a new polysaccharide made up of the sugars glucose and arabinose—not just glucose as in beta glucan,” said Burton. “We have called it arabinoglucan and believe the way the two different sugars link together will make it structurally similar to beta glucan.”
The researchers, whose findings were recently published in the journal The Plant Cell, think that there might be “great potential” for this new polysaccharide as has been seen with other types.
Burton said while the function of the arabinoglucan was not yet known, it may have properties of value to the health, industrial and medical fields, like well-known polysaccharides such as cellulose for paper and cotton, or xylans that can be used for as dietary supplements or drug delivery. She said the discovery led researchers to question how many other undiscovered plant polysaccharides were out there.
“We don’t know what’s there because we can’t always see it,” Burton noted. “Scientists will need new tools to be able to find them, which might include new antibodies and microscopy techniques.”