A new study from scientists at Virginia tech have figured out a way to create snacks from the inedible plant cellulose. Surprisingly, the treat is delicious and could reduce world hunger if humans began to eat snacks made from trees. Cellulose is an indigestible polymer, but they have turned it into a helpful starch. Cellulose comes from from plant cell walls, where it is produced. Cellulose is usually used to make clothing, fuel and paper while plants use the starch as their energy source. The two molecules are chemically similar except the difference is a simple hydrogen bond. Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech has figured that because cellulose and amylose (edible starch) are both glucose chains form of edible starch, a rearrangement of their hydrogen bonds can make cellulose edible. Zhang and his team turned the cellulose into amylose by breaking down hydrogen bonds through a series of synthetic enzymes. The snack that results from this can be used as a source of fiber or as biodegradable packaging. While it isn’t very tasty, it can be flavored. Because the process is so easy, this project can happen on a larger scale and possibly reduce world hunger. Cellulose would be good to transform because it is the most abundant carbohydrate in the world and could help millions of hungry people by being turned into food.
The study reported: “There is an urgent need to use abundant and renewable nonfood agricultural and forest residues and dedicated bioenergy crops that can grow on marginal land and require low inputs,”
– Farida Amer