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Will we start eating moss soon? Scientists discovered a new polysaccharide in moss

Posted April 24, 2018

Human food is quite diverse. We eat meat, we eat vegetables, we eat mushrooms, we eat herbs, we eat fruit, we eat fish and a lot of other things. We even eat moulded chemical substances and call it candy! But there is something we do not eat although we probably should – moss. An international team of scientists discovered a new complex carbohydrate in moss that we could benefit from.

Scientists do not suggest you start eating moss. But there is a polysaccharide in them that could be extracted for our benefit. Image credit: SusquehannaMan via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The carbohydrate that scientists now found in moss is a complex one – it is polysaccharide, which is made up of sugar molecules. Similar polysaccharide can be found in oats and other cereals, where it promotes healthy gut. In other words, eating moss or moss-derived products could give you similar health benefits to eating oats and other healthy cereals. That would be great, since we definitely have plenty of moss. It is also quite interesting that this discovery was made accidentally, when scientists were researching the evolutionary history of the beta glucan.

Beta glucan is another polysaccharide and is known to have many health benefits. When people advice you to eat more fibre, oftentimes they are thinking about the benefits of beta glucan. Moss does have similar genes to oats, but the beta glucan has not been discovered in moss before. Scientists got interested in these common genes and found that moss has another polysaccharide, made up from glucose and arabinose. Beta glucan, for comparison, only has glucose. Scientists have named the new polysaccharide arabinoglucan and say that there is great potential for it to be used for human benefit. However, they do not advise you to go outside and start peeling moss from the trees. More research needs to be done until we can start looking into ways of using the moss.

The properties of the arabinoglucan are still not known, but there is great potential that it could have health benefits. Furthermore, it could have industrial uses like other well-known polysaccharides, such as cellulose for paper and cotton. Professor Rachel Burton, leader of the study, said: “This discovery leads to the question: how many other polysaccharides do plants contain that we don’t yet know about? We don’t know what’s there because we can’t always see it. Scientists will need new tools to be able to find them, which might include new antibodies and microscopy techniques”.

Despite extremely long research, we still don’t quite know all the benefits that nature may hold for us. But with new advancements in scientific methods we may have discover more substances that we can benefit from.


Source: University of Adelaide

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