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Moss polysaccharide discovery likened to beta glucen

Health & Medical

A polysaccharide discovered in moss is showing the potential to be exploited for health, industrial and medical uses.

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An international team of scientists, led by Professor Rachel Burton from the University of Adelaide in South Australia and Professor Alison Roberts, University of Rhode Island, was looking into the evolutionary history of beta glucan when they made the discovery.

Beta glucan, another polysaccharide, is a dietary fibre that is known to have many health benefits. It is abundant in cereals such as oats and barley, but has not been found in moss despite the plants having similar relevant genes. Beta glucan is also used in medicines for a range of conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer.

The researchers took one of these similar genes from moss to see if it would lead to the production of beta glucan.

“What we found was a new polysaccharide made up of the sugars glucose and arabinose – not just glucose as in beta glucan,” said Professor Burton from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“We have called it arabinoglucan and believe the way the two different sugars link together will make it structurally similar to beta glucan.

“We are not advocating eating moss, we are simply saying that there is great potential for this new polysaccharide as we’ve seen with others.”

Moss cells showing the location of the protein that makes the new polysaccharide, arabinoglucan.

The research has been published in The Plant Cell.         

There are thousands of moss species that typically are flowerless, grow in dark green clumps and thrive in damp and shady conditions.

Professor 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,” Professor Burton said.

“Scientists will need new tools to be able to find them, which might include new antibodies and microscopy techniques.”

The research took place at the University of Adelaide and University of Melbourne and was supported by the Australian Research Council, through the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls, and also the National Science Foundation, US.

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