12 January - 20 June 2016

Food from non-food sources

24 April 13

A wide range of media sources report work by a team of Virginia Tech researchers, which has succeeded in transforming cellulose into starch. This process has the potential to provide a nutrient source from plants not traditionally thought of as food crops. The original research was published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Starch is one of the most important components of the human diet and provides 20-40 percent of our daily caloric intake. Cellulose, on the other hand, is a structural component of plant cell walls, and despite having the same chemical formula as starch, cannot be digested by humans.  The new approach, for which a patent is pending, takes cellulose from non-food plant material, such as corn stover, converts about 30% to amylose, and hydrolyzes the remainder to glucose suitable for ethanol production. Corn stover consists of the stem, leaves, and husk of the corn plant remaining after ears of corn are harvested. However, the process works with cellulose from any plant. The team says the process, which involves key enzymes immobilized on magnetic nanoparticles, is easy to scale up for commercial production, does not require expensive equipment, heat, or chemical reagents, and does not generate any waste.  In addition to being a food source, the starch produced might also be used in biodegradable packaging.

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