The taxonomic usefulness of starch was long ago noted by Edward Tyson Reichert (1913), whose monumental work on "The Differentiation and Specificity of Starches in Relation to Genera, Species, Etc." has today become a classic in its field. He writes:
"It must have been recognized by Leeuwenhoek, and by many of the investigators of the earliest part of the last century, that starches from different sources are not morphologically identical, but if so it does not seem to have attracted any particular attention until the investigations of Fritzsche (Ann. d. Physik. u. Chernie, 1834, xxxii, 129). . . Fritzsche described the starches obtained from a variety of plants. . . He noted not only that the starches from different sources were different, but also that often the form was so characteristic as to determine the plant, or, at least, indicate the genus and family from which the specimen was obtained. This statement was confirmed some years later by Schleiden (Principles of Botany, 1849, 14), who examined a number of starches, mostly not described by Fritzsche. From the differences observed he was enabled to tabulate the various forms, and he published a classification that has continued to be quoted in various standard works, even at the present time."
The starches of various plant species can be distinguished from one another by using a combination of light and chemical tests. These tests are described in detail in an article entitled "The Differential Analysis of Starches" by James B. McNair (Botanical Series, Vol. IX, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, pp. 1-44, June 19, 1930).
An interference figure (or "Maltese cross") is seen when starch grains are examined under the polarization microscope. Intensity, distinctness, shape, regularity and position of the interference figure varies from species to species. With respect to intensity, potato starch has a value of 90 ("very high"), daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) a value of 50 (or "moderate"), and Richardia albo-maculata a value of 30 (or "low"). Intermediate gradations are readily expressed by both words and numbers (see Polarization Chart).
Iodine. Use 0.25 per cent Lugol's solution (the latter made by dissolving 5.0 grams of iodine plus 10.0 grams of potassium iodide in 100 ml of distilled or deionized water). Several drops are placed on a specimen and examined microscopically under low power. Potato starch, used as a color standard, is taken as having a value of 60 (or "moderately deep"). Crinum moorei has a value of 30 (or "light"). Intermediate values are given in the Iodine Reaction Chart.
Chloral hydrate-iodine solution. Prepared by saturating a saturated solution of chloral hydrate with iodine. Several drops are placed on the specimen and examined under the polarizing microscope. The time for the disappearance of the Maltese cross (or gelatinization) is noted (see Chloral Hydrate-Iodine Chart).
Other Reagents: Purdy's solution (an aqueous solution of KOH), Pyrogallic acid, chromic acid, and ferric chloride. Use of these reagents is similar to that described for the above Chloral hydrate-iodine solution (see Purdy's Solution Chart; Pyrogallic Acid Chart; Chromic Acid Chart and Ferric Chloride Chart).
Temperature of Gelatinization:
A small quantity of starch is placed in a test tube holding 10 cc of water and slowly warmed in a water bath. The specimen is periodically removed from the water bath and observed under the polarization microscope for the occurrence of any optical changes. The time for gelatinization is noted (see Temperature of Gelatinization Chart).
A procedure for starch production was given in a Roman treatise by Cato in the year 184 B.C.
Pliny the Elder (23-74 A.D.) states that the Romans used wheat starch to make papyrus documents, as well as to stiffen and whiten cloth and powder the hair.
Dioscorides (1st century A.D.), in his Greek Herbal, recommended the use of wheat starch for the treatment of ulcers, sores and eye inflamtions.
Chinese paper documents of about 312 A.D. were coated with a starch sizing to provide resistance to ink penetration. Starches from rice, wheat and barley were commonly used at that time.
Abu Mansur, an Arabian teacher and pharmacologist, described a method in which wounds could be treated with the use of an artificial "honey" made by mixing starch with saliva in the year 975 A.D.
Starch was used in northern Europe to stiffen linen, possibly as early as the 14th century. Colored and uncolored starches were used as cosmetics, and uncolored starch primarily as hair powder. Blue starch was used by the Puritans until its use was banned by Queen Elizabeth in 1596.
Yellow starch was fashionable during the middle ages until a notorious women prisoner wearing a bright yellow-starched ruffle was publicly executed. Red starch cosmetics remained in fashion for many years (from Whistler, et al., 1984, Starch Chemistry and Technology).
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