Alginic acid (algine, alginate) is a viscous gum that is abundant in the cell walls of brown algae. more...
Chemically, it is a linear copolymer with homopolymeric blocks of (1-4)-linked ß-D-mannuronate (M) and its C-5 epimer α-L-guluronate (G) residues, respectively, covalently linked together in different sequences or blocks.
The monomers can appear in homopolymeric blocks of consecutive G-residues (G-blocks), consecutive M-residues (M-blocks), alternating M and G-residues (MG-blocks) or randomly organized blocks. The relative amount of each block type varies both with the origin of the alginate. Alternating blocks form the most flexible chains and are more soluble at lower pH than the other blocks. G-blocks form stiff chain elements, and two G-blocks of more than 6 residues each form stable cross-linked junctions with divalent cations (e.g. Ca2+, Ba2+, Sr2+ among others) leading to a three-dimensional gel network. At low pH, protonized alginates will form acidic gels. In these gels, it is mostly the homopolymeric blocks that form the junctions, where the stability of the gel is determined by the relative content of G-blocks.
Commercial varieties of alginate are extracted from seaweed, including the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera, Ascophyllum Nodosum and various types of Laminaria.
Alginate absorbs water quickly, which makes it useful as an additive in dehydrated products such as slimming aids, and in the manufacture of paper and textiles. It is also used for waterproofing and fireproofing fabrics, for thickening drinks, ice cream and cosmetics, and as a detoxifier that can absorb poisonous metals from the blood. Alginate is also produced by certain bacteria, notably Azotobacter species. Attempts to produce bacterial alginate have not yet been commercially successful.
Alginate ranges from white to yellowish brown, and takes filamentous, grainy, granular, and powdered forms. It is insoluble in water and organic solvents, and dissolves slowly in basic solutions of sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide and trisodium phosphate.
Purified forms of alginate are used in antacid preparations such as Gaviscon®, Bisodol®, Asilone®, and Boots Own® tablets. Alginate is used extensivly as a mold-making material in dentistry and prosthetics, and in textiles. It is also used in the food industry, for thickening soups and jellies. Calcium alginate is used in burn dressings that promote healing and can be removed painlessly.
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