• An investigation of the biology and chemistry of the Chinese medicinal plant, Amorphophallus konjac

      Baldwin, Timothy C.; Yee, Melinda Chua Fui (University of Wolverhampton, 2011)
      Konjac glucomannan (KGM), the main biologically active constituent of konjac flour extracted from corms of Amorphophallus konjac (konjac), can be used to prepare functional foods and may also have potential as a pharmaceutical product to combat obesity. The current study employed three experimental approaches to study the biology and chemistry of konjac, namely (1) glasshouse experiments to study the morphogenesis, growth and productivity of konjac plants, (2) a histological and immunocytochemical investigation of the localisation and developmental regulation of the deposition and metabolism of KGM in developing corm tissues, and (3) a comparative study of methodologies for the extraction and analysis of KGM. The current data demonstrated a morphological and functional separation between the ventral and dorsal regions of corms. The ventral region appeared to function as a source during the initial period of shoot development, while the dorsal region appeared to operate as a sink after the development of mature canopy. Once the corm reached maturity, both an inflorescence and a leaf were produced within a single season. It has also been demonstrated that the age of the ‘mother’ corm is an important factor affecting the quality of offsets produced. An anti-mannan antiserum detected a temporally regulated pattern of mannan epitope production within glucomannan idioblasts in developing corm tissues, with increased expression as the corm approached maturity/dormancy. The current observations also suggest that the mobilization of KGM initiates at the periphery of the corm and proceeds inwards towards the centre of the corm. Compositional analysis showed that the purified konjac flour (PKF) produced using a modified extraction procedure contained 92% glucomannan, with a weight average molecular weight (Mw), polydispersity index (PDI) and degree of acetylation (DA) of 9.5 ± 0.6 x 105 gmol-1, 1.2 and 2.8 wt. %. These data, plus Fourier-transform infrared spectral (FTIR) and zero shear viscosity analyses of the extract (PKF) were all consistent with the literature. Comparison of three existing methodologies for the quantitative analysis of the KGM content, namely 3,5-dinitrosalicylic acid (3,5-DNS), phenol-sulphuric acid and enzymatic colorimetric assays; indicated that the 3,5-DNS colorimetric assay was the most reproducible and accurate method, with a linear correlation coefficient of 0.997 and recoveries between 97% and 103% across three spiking levels of starch. In summary, this study has provided a better understanding of aspects of the biology and cultivation of A. konjac and has also produced methodologies which can be used as the basis for an improved good laboratory practice (GLP) for the commercial extraction and analysis of this multifunctional natural polymer.