Sugar Makers Benefit From New Enzyme Test
Peabody February 2, 2007
The sugar poured into coffee cups, cereal and favorite desserts seems
so simple, so pure. The process for extracting it from unwieldy, 6-foot-tall
stalks of cane? Hardly so.
That's why Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist
Eggleston has spent the last 13 years trying to tackle processing-related
challenges in sugarcane factories. Eggleston, who works at the agency's
Regional Research Center in New Orleans, has already helped Louisiana's
factories solve one of their stickiest issues: dextran.
Dextran is a thick, viscous material that builds up in damaged cane.
It's caused by sugar-hungry bacteria that are attracted to the wounds of
just-harvested or burned cane. The bacteria, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, produce
the troublesome dextran as a byproduct of their feeding.
With its thick, gummy nature, dextran can clog the pipes in which cane
juice is heated and clarified. Enzymes, called dextranases, must then be
brought in to break down this sticky polysaccharide.
Until Eggleston's involvement, however, factory operators like Adrian
Monge of Cora Texas Manufacturing
Company in White Castle, La., were pretty fuzzy about which dextranase
enzymes to use.
The enzymes are sold in a dizzying array of concentrations and units
of measurements, leaving factory operators basically guessing about their
performance. Also, little has been known about how best to use the enzymes.
Spending the bulk of her research time out of the lab and inside sugar
factories, Eggleston discovered more than one sweet solution to the dextran
First, she developed a simple test, known as the Eggleston titration
method, for evaluating an enzyme's potency at the factory. Now, she's able to
advise processors about how and where to apply the dextranase for optimal
These research findings are paying off. As much as a 95 percent
reduction in dextran is being seen in the five factoriesof Louisiana's
12which have adopted Eggleston's technologies.
about the research in the February 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.