Octulose, about to get bigger?

What is octulose? And why is it about to be bigger? Well, according to Qingwei Zhang and Dorothea Bartels, it’s a “forgotten metabolite”. Yes, but what is it? Octulose is an 8-carbon sugar that occurs in plants (especially so-called resurrection plants such as Craterostigma, bacteria, yeast and animals. However, although its existence has been known for approx. 70 years, study of its metabolic role has apparently largely been neglected, i.e. it’s been ‘forgotten’. But, since it has a defined chemical formula – C8 H16 O8 – how can it be made ‘bigger’? That’s down to the efforts of Zhang and...

What is octulose? And why is it about to be bigger? Well, according to Qingwei Zhang and Dorothea Bartels, it’s a “forgotten metabolite”. Yes, but what is it?

Octulose is an 8-carbon sugar that occurs in plants (especially so-called resurrection plants such as Craterostigma, bacteria, yeast and animals. However, although its existence has been known for approx. 70 years, study of its metabolic role has apparently largely been neglected, i.e. it’s been ‘forgotten’. But, since it has a defined chemical formula – C8 H16 O8 – how can it be made ‘bigger’?

Craterostigma plantagineum

Craterostigma_plantagineum. Image: JMK / Wikipedia

That’s down to the efforts of Zhang and Bartels, who attempt to ‘big up’ this diminutive organic compound in their Viewpoint item. In particular, they emphasise possible commercial value from exploitation of the compound. For example, they note that it may have a role as an antioxidant, and could be a potential target for developing new drugs against disease-causing parasites such as Trypanosoma brucei (causative agent of African Trypanosomiasis, more widely known as Sleeping Sickness), Trypanosoma cruzi (which causes American Trypanosomiasis, also known as Chagas Disease), and various Leishmania species (which cause Leishmaniasis).

Somewhat towards the other end of the spectrum of ‘worthiness of projects’, octulose derivatives may also have value for developingcosmetics. Maybe, after three-score and ten years, it’s now time for octulose to ‘shine’* after all? Never heard of octulose before? You have now!

* But, hopefully, in a manner unlike Mélanie René’s song of the same name that failed to qualify for the final as Switzerland’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2015…

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities. [ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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