Virginia Tech scientists turn cellulose into dietary starch

Starch is a cornerstone of the human diet, providing 20-40 percent of all our daily caloric intake. Cellulose is the supporting material in plant cell walls and is the most common carbohydrate on earth.

Pass the butter. And some corn. Oh, and can you pass that plate of cellulose, too?

A team at Virgina Tech says they have turned cellulose into starch, potentially turning plants into an untapped nutrient source.  Starch is a cornerstone of the human diet, providing 20-40 percent of all our daily caloric intake. Cellulose is the supporting material in plant cell walls and is the most common carbohydrate on earth.

This development opens the door to the potential that food could be created from any plant, reducing the need for crops to be grown on valuable land that requires fertilizers, pesticides and large amounts of water.

Y.H. Percival Zhang's team produced amylose, a linear resistant starch that is not broken down in the digestion process and acts as a good source of dietary fiber. It has been proven to decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes.

The starches could not only become the basis of foods, they could be used to make edible, clear films for biodegradable food packaging.

Zhang used a novel process involving cascading enzymes to transform cellulose into amylose starch. "Cellulose and starch have the same chemical formula," Zhang said. "The difference is in their chemical linkages. Our idea is to use an enzyme cascade to break up the bonds in cellulose, enabling their reconfiguration as starch."

This bioprocess called "simultaneous enzymatic biotransformation and microbial fermentation" is easy to scale up for commercial production. It is environmentally friendly because it does not require expensive equipment, heat, or chemical reagents, and does not generate any waste. The key enzymes immobilized on the magnetic nanoparticles can easily be recycled using a magnetic force.

To learn more: Virginia Tech. "Scientists transform cellulose into starch: Potential food source derived from non-food plants." ScienceDaily, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2013

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