Wood pulp consists of cellulose. Cellulose is a kind of sugar and the most abundant plant material on earth. It is also one of the most indigestible – at least for humans and certain animals. It is also the main ingredient in paper.

With the help of enzymes from Novozymes, Japanese paper manufacturer Nippon Paper Chemicals has now found a way to turn cellulose into cellobiose – a form of sugar that can easily be digested by many animals as well as humans – and the company now produces and sells digestible sugars made from wood pulp.

Stimulates growth

“The new enzyme technology can thus turn cellulose into a high-value ingredient for animal feed or a functional compound for human consumption,” says Director Henrik Lund from Novozymes.

“The process turns cellulose into a much more valuable product,” he explains.

Researchers in Japan did trials to test a feed additive containing cellobiose. They found that piglets fed a diet supplemented with cellobiose had a significantly higher gain of weight than piglets on a regular diet. Over a four-week period, the average daily gain was 617 grams in the cellobiose group as opposed to a gain of 559 grams in the other group.

Future applications

In the future, cellobiose could be used as a healthy dietary supplement for humans, too. When eaten, cellobiose acts as a so-called prebiotic that stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon.

Cellobiose may also be used in cosmetics such as skin foundations and antiperspirants. It was confirmed in safety tests for cosmetics that cellobiose has no irritation or sensitization effect.

There are also possibilities in pharmaceuticals for use in drug delivery or as filler for tablets.