redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
New technology developed by experts at the FEMSA Center of Biotechnology at Technologic of Monterrey (ITESM) can purportedly use grated carrots to obtain natural compounds with the potential to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions.
Furthermore, the process, which enables scientists to genetically engineer for increased amounts of bioactive compounds in vegetables, also allowed the researchers to obtain shikimic acid – a substance which is one of the raw materials used to produce antiviral drugs that aid in the treatment of influenza.
Lead investigator Daniel Alberto Jacobo Velázques and his colleagues won the National Award in Food Science and Technology (PNCTA) 2012 in the Technology Professional in Food category for their work, an award presented by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) and the Coca-Cola’s Mexico branch.
They have already applied for a patent covering the production, extraction and purification of phenolic compounds and shikimic acid using the proposed technology, which begins by activating the carrot’s metabolism through the grating process.
Next, the carbon flow of the vegetable’s metabolism is modulated by applying glyphosate – an herbicide which helps inhibit enzyme production, according to the study authors. The method allows scientists to stockpile large amounts of shikimic acid and phenolic compounds inside the plant’s tissue.
“The first four parts of the research have been completed, we have figured out the mechanism by which the carrot produces this compounds when subjected to stress,” explained Velázquez. “Now, we look for the optimization of the production so the plant tissue will secrete more of this compounds.”
“Afterwards we’d like to extract them to produce dietary supplements and shikimic acid. The shikimic acid is the raw material that the pharmaceutical industry needs to produce Tamiflu, a useful drug in the treatment against flu,” he continued, adding that carrot was chosen because it responds to different types of stress (like grating) and because it is grown internationally. That latter attribute means that the technology could be used worldwide.
In addition to extracting shikimic acid, the technique allows phenolic compounds (chemical compounds consisting of a hydroxyl group bonded directly to an aromatic hydrocarbon group) to be obtained. Those compounds help prevent diseases in humans, largely because they have antioxidant properties which help neutralize free radicals in the blood stream, thus preventing the occurrence of chronic degenerative diseases.
According to Velázquez, shikimic acid is currently extracted from the Star anise, a plant which is only produced in China. Conversely, the carrot is cultivated in many nations throughout the world. Bioactive compounds, on the other hand, are currently produced through genetic engineering, but the ITSEM team’s alternative method only requires the plant’s tissue to be stressed through cutting (grating) and by applying herbicides.