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What is Rhamnose?

Rhamnose is a naturally occurring sugar, unique in its structure and found in many plants and bacteria. It's not just a sweetener; it plays a role in cellular communication and has potential in skincare and pharmaceuticals. Intrigued by how a simple sugar can impact health and beauty? Dive deeper to uncover the surprising versatility of rhamnose.
Helga George
Helga George

Rhamnose is an unusual sugar that is found primarily in plants and some bacteria. Unlike most natural sugars, it is found in an L configuration instead of the usual D configuration. It forms a major structural component of plant cell walls and is also bound to other compounds, such as phenolics. In some gram negative bacteria, the sugar is bound to lipids. Both the pure compound and the lipid component have a number of uses in the pharmaceutical, agricultural, and cosmetic industries.

In addition to its unusual L structural configuration, this unusual compound is also atypical because it is a deoxy sugar. Such sugars are usually components of DNA or RNA. This compound is found as simple sugar in some plants, but more commonly is found as a glycoside. Such structures combine a sugar with another compound, such as a phenolic.

Drugs are in development that cure tuberculosis by destroying the rhamnose in the bacteria.
Drugs are in development that cure tuberculosis by destroying the rhamnose in the bacteria.

One highly important and widespread use of this sugar in plants is as a component of polysaccharides known as rhamnogalacturonans. Such polymers are important for plant cell wall structural integrity and comprise part of pectin, one of the substances that holds plant cell walls together. These are long chains of L-rhamnose mixed with galacturonic acid. There are different types of rhamnogalacturonans that vary in their degree of branching and components, which may include other sugars.

Bacteria known as mycobacteria have rhamnose in their outer membrane. Such bacteria include the casual agent of tuberculosis. Drugs that target the synthesis of this sugar are being studied as possible clinical agents to treat this disease.

Antibiotic resistance can develop in tuberculosis patients who do not follow an effective treatment regimen.
Antibiotic resistance can develop in tuberculosis patients who do not follow an effective treatment regimen.

Other bacteria utilize rhamnose combined with lipids in their polysaccharides, resulting in compounds called rhamnolipids. Those produced by the gram negative bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa are used commercially. At least one other type of gram negative bacterium has been genetically engineered to produce a larger percentage of rhamnolipid in the exopolysaccharide surrounding the cells to facilitate improved extraction of the compound for industrial uses.

Tuberculosis is considered to be a highly contagious, airborne disease.
Tuberculosis is considered to be a highly contagious, airborne disease.

Rhamnolipids have the properties of a surfactant, meaning they can mix with oil and water. Most such compounds have been made from petroleum products in the past. These naturally based compounds are considered a green alternative to older products, and are often used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture.

In addition to the direct use of rhamnolipids, they are also used as commercial sources of rhamnose sugar. It is not ideal to have plants as a source of an industrial compound, since their availability may be limited. Many companies prefer to obtain industrial natural products from genetically engineered sources.

Tuberculosis commonly affects the lungs and causes night sweats and fever.
Tuberculosis commonly affects the lungs and causes night sweats and fever.

There are myriad other uses for this sugar. For instance, there is an overexpression system in which the production of the desired gene is triggered by adding sterilized rhamnose to the genetically engineered bacteria. A rhamnose test is available for intestinal permeability in humans. Many prescription drugs, such as non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause intestinal damage that manifests as leakage through the intestines. Having patients drink a solution of lactulose and L-rhamnose is one way of testing for this condition.

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    • Drugs are in development that cure tuberculosis by destroying the rhamnose in the bacteria.
      By: stockdevil
      Drugs are in development that cure tuberculosis by destroying the rhamnose in the bacteria.
    • Antibiotic resistance can develop in tuberculosis patients who do not follow an effective treatment regimen.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      Antibiotic resistance can develop in tuberculosis patients who do not follow an effective treatment regimen.
    • Tuberculosis is considered to be a highly contagious, airborne disease.
      By: Kurhan
      Tuberculosis is considered to be a highly contagious, airborne disease.
    • Tuberculosis commonly affects the lungs and causes night sweats and fever.
      By: michaeljung
      Tuberculosis commonly affects the lungs and causes night sweats and fever.