3 Benefits of Sugar You Probably Didn’t Know About

When it comes to the building blocks of life, protein has always been given a lot of credit and sugar has often been underestimated. Although sugar can fuel our bodies, and even rockets, sugar is not limited to the energy it can provide or its sweet taste. Sugar helps living things survive in extreme conditions, benefits the environment, and even plays a role in reproduction.

1. Sugar helps cells survive dehydration

The sugar called trehalose can help some living things survive long periods without water, even when their cells are completely dried up. These living beings are called extremophiles and can withstand extreme temperatures or even water shortage. And when they have water, it can just bring bring them back to life.

Water provides stability to living cells by keeping their shape. It also helps stabilize the microscopic machinery of our cells – large protein molecules with complex shapes – so they can function properly.

Extreme conditions, such as lack of water or high heat, can damage these large protein molecules. Conditions can change their shapes and prevent proteins from doing what they are supposed to. However, due to the structure of the trehalose sugar — with a pair of glucose rings linked by a flexible and stable bond — it can take the place of water and interact with complex molecules in the cell to help them retain their shape. In fact, we use the stabilizing abilities of trehalose to preservation of food and vaccines.

Read more: 20 things you didn’t know about… sugar

Most of the time when plants, bacteria, fungi or animals have this particular ability to go without water, they need to have high levels of trehalose in their cells. But tardigrades – the most extreme of extremophiles (they can even survive in the space) – don’t, because they evolved to use trehalose in another way.

Tardigrades have a special protein that helps protect other molecules in their cells from damage that extreme conditions can cause. In a recent studyresearchers have shown that the sugar trehalose and this unique protein work together – in ways we don’t yet fully understand – to provide better protection than either trehalose alone or the special protein alone.

2. Sugar is good for our environment

Trehalose sugar also helps plants survive changing or extreme conditions. Trehalose is found not only in plant cells where it is used for protection, but also in the soil around plant roots, called the rhizosphere.

In the same way that plants “inhale” the carbon dioxide that we exhale and we inhale the oxygen that plants “exhale”, soil contains bacteria that live in symbiosis with plants. And the relationship is close. Scientists believe that trehalose which soil bacteria product can act as a signal molecule. When sugar induces the plant to produce substances, it helps the plant to better tolerate changing conditions.

Sugar can also help plants underwater. Tons of sucrose sugar are found under the sea where the seagrass grows. Seagrasses can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and trap carbon that would otherwise return to the environment. The carbon is used in part to produce sucrose, which seagrasses deposit in the sediments where they grow. Scientists believe that there is several hundred thousand to more than one million US tons of sucrose stashed under seagrass beds.

3. Help flowers bloom

Another way sugar can help plants is in reproduction. Although reproduction is an ability that all living things possess, sugar plays an important role in the beauty and fragrance of flowers.

In plants, as in all other organisms, the transmission of genes to a new generation is an important part of the life cycle. And flowers are nothing more than the reproductive organs of the plant. As with most cycles, timing is everything. Flowering plants need to be in tune with the environment around them so that they try to reproduce only when they are likely to succeed. But, in addition to clues like the season, time of day and temperature, which tell plants what is happening around them, cells use sugar to communicate within the plant. Sugar triggers metabolic pathways that signal when stop growing and start flowering.

From the extremes of aid to the blooming of a flower, life indeed seems to depend on sugar.