Polysaccharides: From Waste Products to Smart Materials

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Polysaccharides: From Waste Products to Smart MaterialsDr. Caroline L. SchauerPolysaccharides are simply carbohydrates formed by combination or chain of monosaccharides and are a very common organic compound found in nature. We are exposed to them various times a day and they make up an important part of our Earth. Some common polysaccharides are: cellulose, chitin (in seafood), starch, alginate, hydroaluronic acid, chondritin sulfate, glycogen, xylan, pectin, and various others. Polysaccharides boast varied and mostly useful properties that vary based on their structure, on of the most important being the ability to absorb water. Some, however, also degrade in water, rendering this absorption property less viable. There are two main types of polysaccharides: homo, which are groups of the same or similar polysaccharides, and hetero, which is a juxtaposed combination of varying and unique polysaccharides. Polysaccharides pose a big unanswered question in the area of disposing the organic waste.

They are a large byproduct of many industries – citrus, shellfish, wood. We do not yet know what to do with them. However, polysaccharides as wastes also have a great range of potential uses. Depending on the structure and variability of the polysaccharides, they can be used for: Ion exchange, paper products, construction materials, removing salts from drinking water, dry strength additives for paper/building materials, industrial waste water treatment, metal chelation/ion exchange and water binding capacity for super absorbency which would degrade them to regular sugars. Each different polysaccharide has its different unique properties and possibilities. Cellulose can be used as animal supplement and nutrient, because it can be digested by them and is highly fibrous. Chitin can be implemented in various medical resources, such as artificial skin, dental tape, degradable bandages, contact lenses, and in implants. Chitosan, a polysaccharide quite similar to chitin, can be...