A team of researchers from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMCP) -a joint centre of the Universitat Politècnica de València and CSIC, the Spanish National Research Council- have identified a novel and potent natural antioxidant occurring in tomato plants. It is a phenolic substance that is synthesised by the tomato plant when it is subjected to biotic stress. Until now, it was completely unknown.
The UPV and CSIC have registered the national and international patents of the new antioxidant and the laboratory procedures used to isolate and synthesise it chemically.
The finding was recently published in the journal Environmental and Experimental Botany.
IBMCP researchers point out that the antioxidant power of the new compound is much higher -14 times higher, to be precise- than, for example, that of resveratrol, a well-known antioxidant, found in red wine, which can delay cellular aging. In addition, it is 4.5 times more potent than vitamin E and 10 times more potent than vitamin C.
This substance could have multiple applications. For example, in the food industry it could be used as a preservative in food for human consumption and in animal fodder, because of its action as a retarder of lipid oxidation. This powerful antioxidant would prevent changes such as fats and oils becoming rancid, which strongly diminishes food quality. It could also be used as a supplement in certain products after careful processing.*
It should also be noted that antioxidants have beneficial health properties, such as helping to prevent coronary heart disease and cancer; therefore, the compound could have major applications in the pharmaceutical industry.
Other possible uses for it could be in the petrochemical industry, as a preservative of gasoline, and in the polymer industry, where it could be used in the manufacture of fibres, rubber products, geotextiles and others. In this case, the antioxidant would be used as a stabilizer in the production process, and also to increase the life of the final product.
In the cosmetic industry it could be used in products for skin care, given its possible properties related to delaying aging.
At the Polytechnic City of Innovation labs, researchers have discovered this substance, which is present in tomato plants subjected to biotic stress, and have developed a simple and economical process for synthesising it in the laboratory.
The IBMCP research team explains that when a plant is stimulated by a stressor, the plant reacts and activates mechanisms that alter the levels of certain compounds. "Many phenolic compounds are produced by plants in response to biotic or abiotic stress; these compounds have multiple effects, including antioxidant activity," said Vicente Conejero, the director of the research group.
It was while studying these anomalous circumstances -stress- of plants that they discovered the induction of this compound. "We all know that as fever is an alarm associated with defence mechanisms in humans. Well, diseased plants have a similar alarm, which is the synthesising of a number of chemical compounds. One of these, so far unknown, is the compound that we have discovered, which has extraordinary antioxidant capabilities. Besides, we are able to synthesise it in our lab," explained José María Bellés and M. Pilar López, both IBMCP researchers.
In this regard, it must be stressed that the synthesis process is simple and inexpensive; therefore, IBMCP experts point, the compound is now ready to be introduced in the market. Moreover, it presents significant advantages compared to other commercial antioxidants.
*It should be noted that leaves, stems, and green unripe fruit of the tomato plant contain small amounts of the poisonous alkaloid tomatine.
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