Research Gives a 'Jump-Start' to Natural Ingredient Supplies

Natural materials in many industries remain in high demand. And while cosmetic manufacturers strive to provide products that are as natural as possible, the ingredient sources for these materials are not infinite--and industries wither have to share them or seek synthetic alternatives. Unless there was a nonchemical way to increase the output of current natural materials with little increase in cost. Apparently, there is.

Researchers from the University of Arizona studying the effects of electrical stimulus on plants have found a novel, natural means to increase the production of some natural chemicals found in plants, as the American Chemical Society has reported. In work conducted by Hans VanEtten and colleagues, the effects of electricity on the ability of a pea plant to produce pisatin, an antifungal substance, were studied. According to reports, the researchers found that exposing pea plants to sub-lethal doses of electric current produced 13 times higher amounts of pisatin than plants that were not exposed to electricity. The researchers observed similar increases in plant chemicals produced by other plants when exposed to electricity.

This research was reported in the April 4 issue of Biotechnology Progress, a bi-monthly ACS journal. According to the article abstract, secondary metabolites that are normally found in low amounts in healthy plant tissue are produced in high amounts in response to microbial infection or other environmental factors such as sun exposure. These secondary metabolites, as reported in other sources, are used in foods, dyes, poisons, perfumes and medicines.

Within this study, the production of the phytoalexin (+)-pisatin by pea was used as the main model system. Seedlings, intact roots or cell suspension cultures of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek), Medicago truncatula (barrel medic), Arabidopsis thaliana, Trifolium pratense (red clover) and Cicer arietinum (chickpea) also were found to produced increased levels of secondary metabolites in response to electro-elicitation. On the basis of these results, researchers concluded that electric current appears to be an elicitor of plant secondary metabolites and may have potential for application in basic and commercial research.

Research such as this is a novel approach to answering the demand on today's natural resources and may just be the "jump-start" the naturals segment needs.

-Rachel Chapman, C&T magazine


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