What is Allolactose?

Instructor: Dominic Corsini
What are sugars made from? How are they used within the body? This lesson addresses those questions through an investigation into the structure and function of allolactose.

What is Allolactose?

Let's begin this lesson with a question. What does sugar have to do with protein synthesis? Well, to many people there isn't a clear link between these two items. However, the sugar allolactose links the two concepts together.

Allolactose is a sugar molecule that can permit protein synthesis to proceed. More specifically, it can turn on specific genes. It does this by telling the body that these genes need to be read in order to produce specific protein molecules. Let's take a moment to review allolactose's form and underlying structure.

Structure of Allolactose

Allolactose is a disaccharide sugar. Disaccharides are moderately sized sugar molecules made from two smaller sugar molecules. In the case of allolactose, the two smaller sugars are galactose and glucose. Each smaller sugar is made of a ring of carbon atoms. These carbon rings also incorporate oxygen and hydrogen atoms to help form a hexagon shape.

Atomic Structure of Allolactose

These two small sugar molecules, called monosaccharides, are also used to form lactose, the sugar commonly found in milk. The difference between allolactose and lactose is based purely on how the monosaccharide subunits bond together.

Atomic Structure of Lactose

Enzymes are molecules that speed up chemical reactions or initiate structural changes. An enzyme called galactosidase can initiate the change from lactose to allolactose by causing a change in the bonding pattern between galactose and glucose.

Galactosidase is able to do this because, after bonding, it creates a shift in the underlying structure of lactose. Hence, allolactose contains the same chemical elements as lactose, but is structurally different. The two sugars are made of the same parts, but the parts are put together a little differently.

Allolactose and Gene Expression

So how is the disaccharide sugar allolactose involved in gene expression and protein synthesis? Well, for an example, let's look at bacteria. You see, allolactose is found within many types of bacteria, but one species has been studied extensively. E. coli is a bacteria found in your digestive tract, feeding on the undigested nutrients from your meals. The DNA of E. coli is capable of coding for around 4000 different proteins.

However, not all these proteins are created at the same time. Instead, E. coli regulates the creation of different proteins based on currently available food resources.

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