The research legacy of Peter J. Wood.
Peter Wood was an exceptional scientist who helped lay the foundation for our understanding of the health benefits of soluble fiber. As a carbohydrate chemist, he developed methods to characterize polysaccharides and used them to better understand the structure and behavior of cereal (1→3)(1→4)-β-D-glucans. With collaborators, he demonstrated the distribution of these mixed linkage β-glucans in cereal grains and food products. He studied the behavior of β-glucans in solution and demonstrated that, like other high molecular weight polymers, they exhibited shear thinning behavior and viscosity increased exponentially with increasing concentration. By using size exclusion chromatography, with post-column calcofluor detection, Peter was able to determine the molecular weight distributions of β-glucans in unpurified extracts. He investigated the differences in fine structure among oat, barley, rye and wheat β-glucans and showed that the differences influenced the gelation properties of these polymers. He drew together multi-disciplinary collaborations to investigate how the physico-chemical characteristics of oat β-glucans influenced their ability to attenuate post-prandial blood glucose levels and lower serum cholesterol concentrations. Using oat gum extracts which Peter and coworkers had produced, they demonstrated that β-glucan was the major bioactive component of oat bran which affected blood glucose and cholesterol levels in humans. A series of clinical trials showed that solubility and molecular weight of oat β-glucan were modified by food processing, which in turn affected bioactivity. Peter's dedication to excellent science and drive to establish the underlying mechanisms of health benefits of oat fiber have provided us with a wealth of knowledge for future research.
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