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Bovine stomach holds sugary surprise.

Bovine stomach holds sugary surprise

Examining the long sugar chains created by bacteria that live in the rumen, the first of four stomachs of animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, a scientist has discovered a sugar never before seen in nature. The sugar, L-altrose, is usually found at the end of "a long, tortuous route through organic chemistry" undertaken by companies interested in using the molecule as an artificial sweetener, says the discoverer, Robert J. Stack, a biochemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Peoria, Ill.

Although Stack says he is not researching microbial techniques for producing L-altrose on a large scale, his finding could potentially allow anyone interested in the commercial market to do so. Today's methods of making the sugar are expensive, Stack says, and starting with the bacterial machinery instead of from "scratch" could reduce the costs. Chemically synthesized L-altrose has been patended by one company, and Stack has applied for a patent on his microbial method of making the sugar.

Stack stumbled upon the sugar while studying how cows use bacteria to help digest plant matter. He was looking at one of the long sugar molecules made by the bacterium Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens, in hopes of explaining why the long sugars constructed by some bacteria aren't broken down by enzymes from other bacteria. Finding L-altrose supports the idea that these chains contain unusual components unrecognizable to the other bacteria's digestive enzymes.

Stack says he wonders what cows do with the sugar chain containing L-altrose. Because the sugar is "left-handed" in contrast to the right-handed sugars common to animal diets, it may be difficult or impossible for animals to metabolize.
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Title Annotation:L-altrose sugar
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 21, 1989
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