Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are one among the most important macromolecules formed by the polymerization of simple monosaccharide or sugar units. Almost all the naturally found carbohydrates are in the form of polysaccharides having higher molecular weights. Different types of polysaccharides are known as mannose, xylose and arabinose. The monomeric units differ in each polysaccharide, but the dominant monosaccharide is Dglucose.

If these building units are all similar, as in the case of cellulose which is formed by the merging of the same sugar ‘glucose’, it is designated as a homopolymer. Similarly ‘starch’ is the homopolymer made of glucose. The homopolymer formed by ‘fructose’ units is Inulin.

Inulin is found widespread in plant carbohydrates as storage reserves. Our gastrointestinal tract doesn’t have the ability to digest Inulin and hence they provide us less calorie. Due to this property, inulin is consumed widely in food industry for low calorific nutritive and healthy foods.

Starch is the major form of stored food reserves in cells of plants. Based on structure, two types of starches are found. Amylose is the unbranched structure which consists of a long linear chain of hundreds of glucose residues. Branched starch comprised of thousands of glucose residues is called amylopectin.

In an approximate of every thirtieth residue will contain a short side chain linked to the main chain by a glycosidic bond. Glycogen is the glucose storage polymer used in animals. When compared with amylopectin, its structure is similar, but is more highly branched about every tenth glucose unit contains a side chain. The degree of branching in these polysaccharides can be measured through chemical or enzymatic analysis. Liver and skeletal cells deserve the major part of glycogen in animals.

The property of insolubility in water let them serve as the major storage reserves. Plants accumulate their excess glucose in the form of starch which provided the major nutrition in human diet. Wood, cotton and paper are all consist of cellulose which is the single most plentiful organic molecule in world. Plant cell walls maintain their structure with the help of cellulose only. Both starch and cellulose are made of same monomeric units of glucose, but they differ in which cellulose possess no side chains. This linear structure enables it to give a strengthened structure, with all the linear molecules lay closely together. Most of the animals, including humans cannot digest cellulose and hence it functions as roughage and is eliminated out during excretion largely unaffected. Some animals like cow have intestinal microorganisms that breakdown cellulose into monosaccharide nutrients with the help of beta-glycosidase enzymes. Next to cellulose, the abundantly found polysaccharide in nature is chitin. It is a complex heteropolymer which is made of modified sugars and amino acids. The most important constituent of chitin is the amino sugar N – Acetylglucosamine. It forms the composition of exoskeletons of many species of crustaceans like lobsters and crabs. It is commonly found as complexes with other proteins and polysaccharides.

In structure of chitin, two N – Acetylglucosamine components are repeated along the whole chain forming beta-1, 4 linkages. Both chitin and cellulose serves to increase the structure and strength, thus giving protection to the organisms. Chitin is used widely for chemical and industrial purposes. In paper industries, chitin is employed to improve the strength of the paper. Its flexibility and strength fix it as the suitable material for making the surgical threads. Also in wound healing, its biodegradability plays an exclusive role of wearing away after the wound heals.