Gene breakthrough could boost anthocyanin stability

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antioxidant

British scientists have identified an enzyme in plants that
chemically modify anthocyanins to alter their properties, and may
lead to more stable and tailoring of the antioxidant pigments.

Anthocyanins are the source of the blue, purple and red colour of berries, grapes and some other fruits and vegetables. These pigments also function as antioxidants, believed to protect the human body from oxidative damage that may lead to heart disease, cancer and ageing. Hundreds of different anthocyanins exist in nature, all with slightly different chemical compositions. Researchers from the John Innes Centre and Institute of Food Research in Norwich identified that the genes for acyltransferase enzymes responsible for producing these pigments in plants. "This improved understanding of the genetics of anthocyanins also provides a better platform for studying their antioxidant properties, important in the fight against cancer, cardiovascular disease and age-related degeneration,"​ said Professor Cathie Martin who co-led the project. The research, reported in the new issue of Business from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), focussed on the brassica plant Arabidopsis. Martin and co-workers were able to identify a small number of genes responsible for 'switching on' the enzymes that chemically modify anthocyanins when the plants were 'stressed' or challenged. "When we transferred these genes to a tobacco plant, the colour of the tobacco flowers changed slightly, confirming that these genes, and the enzymes that they produce, were indeed responsible for modifying anthocyanins,"​ said Martin. "What's more, these anthocyanins that had been modified by the enzymes were more stable than those that hadn't. This is significant because stabilised anthocyanins could be used as natural food colourants to replace many artificial colours used in various foods​," she added. While these natural ingredients have been used as colouring agents in foods for some time, Frost & Sullivan estimates that there is significant potential for growth in polyphenol use as health ingredients. Revenues for the overall European polyphenols market in 2003 were thought to be worth $99 million (€77.88m), with red fruit anthocyanins, leading market expansion alongside green tea flavonoids, and grape and olive polyphenols. Source: Business​ from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council October 2007

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