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posted on 25.06.2020 by Xiaowei Zhang

As a major part of the dietary fiber classification, plant polysaccharides often have chemically complex structures which may differ by genera and species, and perhaps even by genotype and growing environment. Arabinoxylans from cereal cell walls are known to differently impact human gut microbiota composition and fermentation metabolites due to variability in chemical structure, though specificities of structure to these functions are not known at the level of genotype ́ environment. In the first study, corn bran arabinoxylan (CAX) extracted from 4 genotypes ́ 3 growing years at the Purdue Agronomy Farm was compared in human fecal fermentations to test the hypotheses that, 1) CAXs extracted from brans from different corn genotypes and grown over different years (environments) show distinct structures, and 2) these cause differences in gut microbiota response and fermentation metabolites. Monosaccharides and linkage analysis revealed that CAXs had different structures and the differences were genotype-specific, but not significantly due to environment. PCA analysis revealed that both short chain fatty acid production and the microbial community shifted also in a genotype-specific way. Thus, small structural changes, in terms of sugar and linkage compositions, cause significant changes in fermentation response showing very high specificity of structure to gut microbiota function.

Insoluble fermentable cell wall matrix fibers have been shown to support beneficial butyrogenic Clostridia, but have restricted use in food products due to their insoluble character.

In the second study, a soluble fiber matrix was developed that exhibited a similar fermentation effect as fermentable insoluble fiber matrices. Low arabinose/xylose ratio CAX was extracted with two concentrations of sodium hydroxide to give soluble polymers with relatively low and high residual ferulic acid (CAX-LFA and CAX-HFA). After laccase treatment to make diferulate crosslinks, soluble matrices were formed with average size of 3.5 to 4.5 mer. In vitro human fecal fermentation of CAX-LFA, CAX-HFA, soluble crosslinked ~3.5 mer CAX-LFA (SCCAX- LFA), and ~4.5 mer SCCAX-HFA revealed that the SCCAX matrices had slower fermentation property and higher butyrate proportion in SCCAX-HFA. 16S rRNA gene sequencing showed that SCCAX-HFA promoted OTUs associated with butyrate production including Unassigned Ruminococcaceae, Unassigned Blautia, Fecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Unassigned Clostridium. This is the first work showing the fabrication of soluble crosslinked fiber matrices that favors growth of butyrogenic bacteria.

Moreover, these same SCCAXs exhibited an interesting gel forming property on simple pH reduction, which is similar in gelling property to low acyl gellan gum, though is differently readily soluble in water. Both of the SCCAXs formed gels at pH 2, with SCCAX-HFA forming the stronger gel. Gels showed shear-thinning behavior and a thermal and pH reversible property. A gel forming mechanism was proposed involving noncovalent crosslinking including hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interaction among the SCCAX complexes. This mechanism was supported by structural characterization of SCCAX complexes using a Zeta-sizer and FT-IR spectroscopy. SCCAX-HFA could be used in low sugar gels and has the above property of promoting butyrogenic bacteria in the gut.

In conclusion, gut microbiota responds differentially to CAXs with various fine structures. This probably due to dietary fiber-gut microbiota relationships have been evolved over time to be highly specific. Forming soluble fiber matrices could be a good strategy to promote butyrogenic bacteria and improve gut health, in a readily usable form in beverages.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Food Science

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Bruce Hamaker

Additional Committee Member 2

Bradley Reuhs

Additional Committee Member 3

Kee-Hong Kim

Additional Committee Member 4

Liping Zhao



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