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Perspectives on the history of research on starch

Part III: On the era of confusion due to terminology

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Abstract

Starch has been used over several millennia for a number of different applications. However, research on understanding this substance only spans about three centuries starting with Leeuwenhoek who observed it in 1716. This story of discovery of the molecular structure and architectural makeup of starch is chronicled in a series of six essays of which this is the third with a focus on contemporary terminologies used in the 19th and early 20th centuries and its impact on advances in starch. Following the discovery of diastase, researchers focused on understanding the action of diastase on “transforming” starch into sugar. Besides maltose, they found that the products consisted of a range of dextrins with different abilities to complex with iodine. However, the nomenclature of the products that were obtained under a myriad of experimental conditions gave rise to confusions and misinterpretations, which transpired for over 30 years. Researchers also attempted to understand starch structure through systematic analyses of the different stages of starch breakdown. A new era of confusion in both nomenclature and structural interpretation started in the early 20th century with the discovery of cyclodextrins that were obtained from starch using the microorganism B. macerans. This gave rise to the school of “the low molecular elementary unit hypothesis” for starch structure, which lasted for about 25 years.

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