Better broccoli, enhanced anti-cancer benefits with longer shelf life

While researching methods to increase the already well-recognized anti-cancer properties of broccoli, researchers at the University of Illinois also found a way to prolong the vegetable’s shelf life.And, according to the recently published study, the method is a natural and inexpensive way to produce broccoli that has even more health benefits and won’t spoil so quickly on your refrigerator shelf.Jack Juvik, a U of I crop sciences researcher, explained that the combined application of two compounds, both are natural products extracted from plants, increased the presence of cancer-fighting agents in broccoli while prolonging the post-harvest storage period.”We had figured out ways to increase the anti-cancer activity in broccoli, but the way we figured it out created a situation that would cause the product to deteriorate more rapidly after application,” Juvik said. “For fresh-market broccoli that you harvest, it’s not too big a deal, but many of these products have to be shipped, frozen, cut up, and put into other products. Usually the idea is to get it from the farm to at least the distributor (grocery store) within two to three days.”If we could figure out a way to prolong the appearance, taste, and flavor long after harvest and maintain the improved health-promoting properties, that’s always of great interest to growers,” he added.The researchers first used methyl jasmonate (MeJA), a non-toxic plant-signal compound (produced naturally in plants) to increase the broccoli’s anti-cancer potential, which they sprayed on the broccoli about four days before harvest. When applied, MeJA initiates a process of gene activity affiliated with the biosynthesis of glucosinolates (GS), which are compounds found in the tissue of broccoli and other brassica vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage, and kale).Glucosinolates have been identified as potent cancer-preventative agents because of their ability to induce detoxification enzymes, such as quinone reductase (QR), that detoxify and eliminate carcinogens from the human body.However, during this process, MeJA also signals a network of genes that lead to plant decay by inducing the release of ethylene, Juvik explained. “While we can use MeJA to turn on phytochemicals like the glucosinolates and dramatically increase the abundance of those helpful anti-cancer compounds, MeJA also reduces the shelf life after harvest,” he said.So the researchers tried using the recently developed compound 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), which has been shown to interfere with receptor proteins in the plant that are receptor-sensitive to ethylene. They applied the compound after harvesting the same broccoli that had already been treated with MeJA before harvest.”Ethylene will move and bind to ethylene receptors and that binding process initiates decay. What this compound does is that it more competitively lands on the protein and binds to or pushes out ethylene,” Juvik explained. “It basically stops or dramatically slows down the decay associated with ethylene.”The combination is good,” he said.Like MeJA, 1-MCP is also a non-toxic compound naturally produced in plants, although Juvik said synthetic forms can be produced. He stressed that both the MeJA and 1-MCP treatments required very small amounts of the compounds.”It’s very cheap, and it’s about as toxic as salt. It takes very little to elevate all the desirable aspects. …

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Maximizing broccoli’s cancer-fighting potential

Oct. 16, 2013 — Spraying a plant hormone on broccoli — already one of the planet’s most nutritious foods — boosts its cancer-fighting potential, and researchers say they have new insights on how that works. They published their findings, which could help scientists build an even better, more healthful broccoli, in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry.Share This:John Juvik and colleagues explain that diet is one of the most important factors influencing a person’s chances of developing cancer. One of the most helpful food families includes cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and cabbage. In fact, eating broccoli regularly has been linked to lower rates of prostate, colon, breast, lung and skin cancers. In that super food, glucosinolates (GSs) and the substances that are left when GSs are broken down can boost the levels of a broccoli enzyme that helps rid the body of carcinogens. One way to increase GSs is to spray a plant hormone called methyl jasmonate on broccoli. This natural hormone protects the plants against pests. Juvik’s team wanted to determine which GSs and their products actually boost the enzyme levels when broccoli is treated.They tested five commercial types of broccoli by spraying them in the field with the hormone and found that, of the GS break-down products, sulforaphane is the major contributor toward enhanced cancer-fighting enzyme levels, although other substances also likely contribute, say the researchers. Environmental conditions played a role, too. …

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