Lactose is a disaccharide sugar that is found most notably in milk and is formed from galactose and glucose. Lactose makes up around 2~8% of milk (by weight), although the amount varies among species and individuals. It is extracted from sweet or sour whey. The name comes from lac, the Latin word for milk, plus the -ose ending used to name sugars. It has a formula of C12H22O11.
Lactose was discovered in milk in 1619 by Fabriccio Bartoletti, and identified as a sugar in 1780 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
Structure and reactions
Lactose is a disaccharide derived from the condensation of galactose and glucose, which form a β-1→4 glycosidic linkage. Its systematic name is β-D-galactopyranosyl-(1→4)-D-glucose. The glucose can be in either the α-pyranose form or the β-pyranose form, whereas the galactose can only have the β-pyranose form: hence α-lactose and β-lactose refer to anomeric form of the glucopyranose ring alone.
Lactose is hydrolysed to glucose and galactose, isomerised in alkaline solution to lactulose, and catalyticaly hydrogenated to the corresponding polyhydric alcohol, lactitol.
Several million tons are produced annually as a by-product of the dairy industry. Whey is made of up 6.5% solids of which 4.8% is lactose that may be purified by crystallisation. Whey or milk plasma is the liquid remaining after milk is curdled and strained, for example in the production of cheese. Lactose makes up about 2-8% of milk by weight. Lactose is purified from whey by adding ethanol. Since it is insoluble in ethanol, lactose precipitates in about 65% yield.
Infant mammals nurse on their mothers to drink milk, which is rich in lactose. The intestinal villi secrete the enzyme called lactase (β-D-galactosidase) to digest it. This enzyme cleaves the lactose molecule into its two subunits, the simple sugars glucose and galactose, which can be absorbed. Since lactose occurs mostly in milk, in most mammals the production of lactase gradually decreases with maturity due to a lack of constant consumption.
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