The Polysaccharides

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Starch, glycogen, and cellulose are three of the most important polysaccharides. In the top row, hexagons represent individual glucose molecules. Micrographs (bottom row) show wheat starch granules stained with iodine (left), glycogen granules (G) inside the cell of a cyanobacterium (middle), and bacterial cellulose fibers (right). (credit “iodine granules”: modification of work by Kiselov Yuri; credit “glycogen granules”: modification of work by Stöckel J, Elvitigala TR, Liberton M, Pakrasi HB; credit “cellulose”: modification of work by American Society for Microbiology)

OpenStax Microbiology

Polysaccharides, also called glycans, are large polymers composed of hundreds of monosaccharide monomers. Unlike mono- and disaccharides, polysaccharides are not sweet and, in general, they are not soluble in water. Like disaccharides, the monomeric units of polysaccharides are linked together by glycosidic bonds.

Polysaccharides are very diverse in their structure. Three of the most biologically important polysaccharides—starch, glycogen, and cellulose—are all composed of repetitive glucose units, although they differ in their structure. Cellulose consists of a linear chain of glucose molecules and is a common structural component of cell walls in plants and other organisms. Glycogen and starch are branched polymers; glycogen is the primary energy-storage molecule in animals and bacteria, whereas plants primarily store energy in starch. The orientation of the glycosidic linkages in these three polymers is different as well and, as a consequence, linear and branched macromolecules have different properties.

Modified glucose molecules can be fundamental components of other structural polysaccharides. Examples of these types of structural polysaccharides are N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) and N-acetyl muramic acid (NAM) found in bacterial cell wall peptidoglycan. Polymers of NAG form chitin, which is found in fungal cell walls and in the exoskeleton of insects.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: