Polysaccharides are the most abundant biopolymers on Earth. Because of their versatile and environmentally friendly properties, these molecules may eventually replace some plastics. In the past, researchers have identified a previously unknown bacterial enzyme that can make a new type of polysaccharide, similar to the biopolymer chitin. The new molecule is biodegradable and may be beneficial for drug delivery, tissue engineering, and other biomedical applications.
Polysaccharides play a wide range of roles in organisms, and because they are biocompatible and biodegradable, these molecules are promising carrier materials for a wide variety of therapeutics. For example, one such enzyme makes chitin, the major component of arthropod exoskeletons and fungal cell walls. Withers and colleagues suggested if there might be previously unknown, naturally occurring enzymes.
Researchers studied a glycoside phosphorylase enzyme from bacteria calledAcholeplasma laidlawii, a common contaminant of laboratory cell cultures. The team studied and purified the enzyme, discovering that it might synthesize a new type of polysaccharide, which they believe is involved in the maintenance of the bacteria. Acholetin is currently believed to be a biocompatible biodegradable material.