Barley boost: First new complex carbohydrate for 30 years could have cosmetics applications

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Barley boost: First new complex carbohydrate for 30 years could have cosmetics applications
The first new complex carbohydrate to be discovered in over 30 years could have potential applications in cosmetics—though scientists have to decide what to do with it first.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine discovered the cereal polysaccharide, saying it has the potential to be exploited for many uses in cosmetics, food and medicine.

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​,” said senior research scientist Alan Little, who made the discovery.

Knowledge of this new polysaccharide will open up further research to determine its role in the plant​.”

Still discovering its uses

The new polysaccharide is a mix of glucose, commonly found in cellulose, and xylose, which is found in dietary fibre. Based on the relative proportions of each sugar, the hybrid polysaccharide has the potential to behave as a structural component of the cell wall providing strength or conversely as a viscous gel.

Its location in the roots of barley suggests it may 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​,” said Dr Little.

Further research is required to understand the new polysaccharide’s potential uses. Existing polysaccharides have a wide range of uses in cosmetics, where they are omnipresent in the form of alginates, pectins and xanthan gum, to name a few.

Potential applications

The application of these compounds ranges from peelings with candy sugar crystals and treatments of dry eye syndrome with hyaluronic acid, up to cleansing products with a wide number of binding, gelling and consistency agents.

Even honey, which contains, among others, a mixture of polysaccharides, is occasionally used in a number of different products.

The properties of the polysaccharide could be manipulated to suit the desired function, increasing the range of potential uses​,” says Dr Little.

The next step would be to investigate the amount and tissue distribution of this polysaccharide in other cereals such as wheat, rice, maize and sorghum.

“Extracting the polysaccharide from each source will allow us to characterise the inherent properties that each structure inherently holds. From here we will be able to identify potential applications and ways to value add to the crops produced by the farmers,”​ Little concludes.

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