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Research identifies new class of phytoalexin-enriched functional foods.

Many foods are derived from plants that naturally contain compounds beneficial to human health and which are believed to prevent certain diseases. Plants containing phytochemicals with potent anticancer and antioxidant antioxidant, substance that prevents or slows the breakdown of another substance by oxygen. Synthetic and natural antioxidants are used to slow the deterioration of gasoline and rubber, and such antioxidants as vitamin C (ascorbic acid), butylated hydroxytoluene  activity have spurred the development of many new functional foods that target health problems.

More recent research into the use of plant phytoalexins phytoalexins (fā·tō··lekˑ·sēnz),
 as nutritional components has opened up a new area of food science. Phytoalexins are produced by plants in response to stress or fungal attack and are often antifungal or antibacterial antibacterial /an·ti·bac·te·ri·al/ (-bak-ter´e-al) destroying or suppressing growth or reproduction of bacteria; also, an agent that does this.

 compounds. Although phytoalexins have been investigated for their possible role in plant defense mechanisms, until recently they have gone unexplored as nutritional components in human foods.

These underutilized compounds may possess key beneficial properties, including antioxidant activity, anti-inflammation activity, cholesterol-lowering ability and anticancer activity. For these reasons, phytoalexin-enriched foods would be classified as functional foods. They would offer the consumer health-enhanced food choices and would also open new applications for many underutilized crops that produce phytoalexins.

USDA-ARS USDA-ARS United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service  researchers indicate that stressing plants to use their natural defense mechanisms can cause them to produce higher levels of beneficial phytoalexins. The investigators are proposing the creation of a new area within functional food research--phytoalexin-enriched foods--that utilizes induced plant compounds or phytoalexins created during the pre- or post-harvest period.

The production of phytoalexins would involve using biotic biotic /bi·ot·ic/ (bi-ot´ik)
1. pertaining to life or living matter.

2. pertaining to the biota.

1. Relating to life or living organisms.
 and abiotic a·bi·ot·ic  
Nonliving: The abiotic factors of the environment include light, temperature, and atmospheric gases.

 elicitors--substances that elicit the production of the phytoalexins--as well as other stress-inducing techniques. These might include organic cultivation, which supposedly leaves plants more susceptible to pathogen and insect attack. This may subsequently lead to increases in secondary metabolites as the plants defend themselves. Another technique might be to externally challenge post-harvested plants, such as grapes, with UV radiation, which would lead to an increase in the levels of resveratrol res·ver·a·trol
A natural compound found in grapes, mulberries, peanuts, and other plants or food products, especially red wine, that may protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease by acting as an antioxidant, antimutagen, and
, a phytoalexin Phytoalexin

Any antibiotic produced by plants in response to microorganisms. Plants use physical and chemical barriers as a first line of defense. When these barriers are breached, however, the plant must actively protect itself by employing a variety of
, in grapes.

Further information. Stephen Boue, USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center, Food and Feed Safety Research, Room 2119, 1100 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Building 001, New Orleans, LA 70124; phone: 504-286-4346; fax: 504-286-4419; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:May 1, 2009
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