Breakthrough Technology for Functional Food to be Showcased

N.C. State University and Rutgers University Collaborate on New Development

Nearly 100 scientists from around the globe will gather at the 6th International Workshop on Anthocyanins (IWA 2011), September 11–14, at the N.C. Research Campus. Anthocyanins are bioactive compounds that are found in blue, red or purple fruits and vegetables. Among the research breakthroughs to be showcased will be a new technology that researchers believe could revolutionize the functional food industry.

The conference is being hosted by the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute and is being coordinated by its director, Dr. Mary Ann Lila. Most of the conference will be held at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, N.C.

“Celebrating the Vivacity of Color” is the theme for this year’s conference, which will share information on all aspects of the biosynthesis and function of anthocyanins in plants and their applications in agriculture, food products and human health. Recent research has pointed to a strong role for natural dietary anthocyanin pigments in alleviating Type 2 diabetes and symptoms of cardiovascular disease; combatting obesity; improving cognitive and motor function, especially age-related symptoms; and the amelioration of several types of cancers.

For the first time publicly, N.C. State and Rutgers University will disclose information about a major new development that allows health-protective anthocyanins and other fruit components to be naturally concentrated in a shelf-stable, low calorie, highly nutritious and good-tasting food product. The research team believes this technology will solve some of the most important challenges faced by the food industry today. Functional foods contain natural components from plants that prevent chronic disease, enhance human metabolism and impart beneficial components for overall health maintenance.

“What is innovative about this new technology is that it is a platform for cost-effective delivery of health-beneficial compounds to the general public,“ says Lila, one of the lead researchers on the project. “For example, we know that some of our research has demonstrated that blueberries alleviate the neurodegeneration that is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. By being able to deliver a daily dose of helpful phytonutrients in a food product that is derived from fruits or vegetables, we have the potential to advance the treatment of Parkinson’s and other diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.”

Intake of the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables remains low for most Americans. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, the average U.S. resident consumes only 51 percent of the recommended levels of fruits and vegetables. Researchers believe this new technology could help Americans increase their intake of beneficial compounds provided from plant crops.

“This can be a convenient way for people to get their daily dose of fruits and vegetables,” says Lila. “It doesn’t replace the need for consuming fresh produce but it will enhance and supplement the daily diet.”

This innovation is expected to help North Carolina farmers and agribusiness as well. North Carolina fruits and vegetables have been used in much of the research. “It has the potential to result in small-scale manufacturing in the state, including both food and cosmetic companies,” explains Lila.

The healthy concentrate from this process will be made available to food, pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical companies. The proprietary process starts with fruits and vegetables. Over the past two years, researchers have learned how to extract the most beneficial compounds from fruits and vegetables while excluding waters, oils and sugars, which also means fewer calories. Among the phytonutrients that become part of this innovative matrix are anthocyanins, beneficial alkaloids and terpenoids, catechins, flavonoids, gingerols, glucosinolates, isoflavones, polyphenols, proanthocyanidins, punicalagins, quercetin and resveratrol.

The process is suitable for many fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea and cocoa. Researchers have studied this new process with apples, blueberries, broccoli, chicory, cinnamon, citrus, cranberries, ginger, muscadines, pears, pomegranates, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and watermelons.

While the research is a joint effort between the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute and Rutgers, a new company, Nutrasorb, LLC, will produce and market this new innovation commercially. The Rutgers spin-off will operate a subsidiary at the N.C. Research Campus, in addition to its headquarters in New Jersey.

Researchers with Lila’s lab at the N.C. Research Campus, along with Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, a plant biologist specializing in pharmacogenomics with the Plants for Human Health Institute, and Dr. Diana Roopchand, Rutgers University, will present research findings related to this new technology.

The conference also will feature several keynote lectures on the latest discoveries in anthocyanin biosynthesis and innovative uses in industry. Among the keynote speakers are Dr. Cathie Martin, John Innes Centre, United Kingdom; Dr. Brenda Winkel, Virginia Tech; Dr. Agnes Ageorges, INRA Montpellier (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), France; Dr. Olivier Dangles, Universite d’ Avignon, France; Dr. Wilhelmina Kalt, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada; Dr. Nuno Mateus, University of Porto, Portugal; Dr. Celestino Santos-Buelga, Universidad de Salamanca, Spain; Dr. H. Martin Schaefer, University of Freiburg, Germany; and Dr. Yoshikazu Tanaka, Suntory Ltd., Japan.

N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute faculty and research personnel as well as faculty from other N.C Research Campus affiliate universities presenting:

Monday, September 12
(N.C. Research Campus, Kannapolis)

11:20 a.m. – Dr. Sally Gustafson, USDA ARS, and a member of Dr. Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, will present “Wild Blueberry Bioactives: Effects of Post-Harvest Handling on Anthocyanin Retention and the Ability of Phenolic-Enriched Extract to Mediate Oxidopamine-Induced ROS in SH-SY5Y Cells.”

12:00 – 12:30 p.m. – Poster Sessions

  • Dr. Mary H. Grace, a member of Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, will discuss “Enrichment of Alternative Food Matrices with Cranberry Anthocyanins and Proanthocyanidins to Create a Unique and Versatile Functional Food Ingredient.”
  • Nathalie Plundrich, a member of Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, will discuss “Concentration of Anthocyanins and Other Polyphenols into Natural Matrices for Cosmeceuticals.”

4 p.m. – Dr. De-Yu Xie, N.C. State University, will present “Programmed Red Cells of Arabidopsis Reprogram Gene Expression Profiles.”

Tuesday, September 13
(Great Wolf Lodge, Concord)

9:45 a.m. – Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, Plants for Human Health Institute, will present “Use of Cranberry Polyphenols to Produce Edible Concentrated Matrices with Proteases and Protease Inhibitors.”

1:30 – 3 p.m. – Poster Sessions

  • Dr. Gad Yousef, a member of Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, will discuss “Anthocyanin Profiling in Commercial and F1 Populations of High- and Low-Bush Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) for Implications on Human Health and Genetics Research.”
  • Aaron Massey, a member of Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, will discuss “Effect of Postharvest Processing on Levels of Anthocyanins and Other Polyphenols in Cranberry Fruit and Products.”

For the complete schedule visit the IWA 2011 conference website.

The Plants for Human Health Institute is part of N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Through groundbreaking, transdisciplinary discovery and outreach, the Plants for Human Health Institute will pioneer a dramatic shift in the way the American public views and uses plant food crops – not merely as a source of nutrients and flavorful calories, but as a powerful resource for components that protect and enhance human health, according to Lila. She expects the institute’s integrated research approach to lead to the development of enhanced health benefits in fruits and vegetables and the introduction of new or underappreciated crops and products. Research in the areas of metabolomics, biochemistry, pharmacogenomics, breeding and postharvest attributes contributes to the institute’s mission.

“Ultimately, research that leads to enhanced benefits in fruits and vegetables will allow consumers to make proactive, responsible dietary choices that benefit their own, and their family’s, health,” said Lila.

Writer: Leah Chester-Davis