Starch breakdown in the digestive tract

March 8, 2020

Starch is one of the most important
components of the human diet it forms the main source of energy in our diet
and is a key nutrient to humans. However in recent years starch consumption has
been linked with a number of negative health outcomes including obesity
diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So my research is focused on understanding
how we can process starch or where we can choose different sources of starch
in order to improve our digestive health and then understanding how those
different structures passage through our digestive tract. An important theme in
our research is selection of raw materials and working with plant
breeders who are looking at natural variation in starch structuring crop
plants. A couple of recent examples we’ve been working with is the wrinkled pea
so this is the mutation which was famously studied by Gregor Mendel we’ve
more recently discovered that it’s a mutation in a starch branching enzyme
which gives rise to starch which is much more thermally resistant as resistant to
thermal processing and therefore has much slower digestion properties. We also
work with colleagues at NIAB in Cambridge who are exploiting natural
variation in starch synthase genes and they’ve developed this puffed barley variety
which has an altered starch synthase gene and as a result both lower starch
content and lower starch digestibility an increased dietary fibre. My research
team is most interested in digestion of starches in the small intestine. When
starch reaches the small intestine it mixes with a complex combination of
digestive fluids which break down starch into simple sugars which we absorb if
that process happens too rapidly then we get large increases in the amount of
glucose we have in our bloodstream and if this happens repeatedly over a long
period of time years or decades then this can ultimately result in the
development of type 2 diabetes so we want to understand how we can process
foods in order to slow this process down and in order to reduce the excursions in
blood glucose a further interest of my research group is colonic fermentation
of starches sometimes when we eat starchy foods if they’re digested very
slowly a proportion of those starches will remain undigested and will pass
into the colon where they will act as dietary fibre. In the colon they’re
broken down by a whole range of different bacteria which we have living
in our guts in order to release beneficial healthy compounds which can
help alleviate a number of diseases such as chronic cancer and type 2 diabetes. We
want to understand how to maximize the delivery of starch to the colon and also
to understand how starch is broken down in the colon which is currently not a
well understood process. In order to achieve these aims we’re working with a
number of partners outside of the Quadram Institute including Imperial College
London King’s College London and KU Leuven in

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