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Approaches in biotechnological applications of natural polymers

1 Laboratório de Imunopatologia Keizo Asami, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Recife, PE, Brazil;
2 Departamento de Bioquímica, Centro de Biociências, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE), Recife, PE, Brazil;
3 Department of Biological Engineering, Universidade do Minho, Campus de Gualtar, Braga, Portugal

Topical Section: Lectins

Natural polymers, such as gums and mucilage, are biocompatible, cheap, easily available and non-toxic materials of native origin. These polymers are increasingly preferred over synthetic materials for industrial applications due to their intrinsic properties, as well as they are considered alternative sources of raw materials since they present characteristics of sustainability, biodegradability and biosafety. As definition, gums and mucilages are polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates consisting of one or more monosaccharides or their derivatives linked in bewildering variety of linkages and structures. Natural gums are considered polysaccharides naturally occurring in varieties of plant seeds and exudates, tree or shrub exudates, seaweed extracts, fungi, bacteria, and animal sources. Water-soluble gums, also known as hydrocolloids, are considered exudates and are pathological products; therefore, they do not form a part of cell wall. On the other hand, mucilages are part of cell and physiological products. It is important to highlight that gums represent the largest amounts of polymer materials derived from plants. Gums have enormously large and broad applications in both food and non-food industries, being commonly used as thickening, binding, emulsifying, suspending, stabilizing agents and matrices for drug release in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. In the food industry, their gelling properties and the ability to mold edible films and coatings are extensively studied. The use of gums depends on the intrinsic properties that they provide, often at costs below those of synthetic polymers. For upgrading the value of gums, they are being processed into various forms, including the most recent nanomaterials, for various biotechnological applications. Thus, the main natural polymers including galactomannans, cellulose, chitin, agar, carrageenan, alginate, cashew gum, pectin and starch, in addition to the current researches about them are reviewed in this article.
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