Does the production environment affect bioactive properties of berries?

Mary Ann Lila

We all know that berries are expert chemists:  They naturally produce complex, biologically-active compounds that are advantageous for human health, using unique metabolic strategies that are unparalleled by any synthetic drugs on the market.  But of course, berries are not producing these novel phytochemical mixtures out of some sense of altruism towards man!   The bioactive chemicals accumulated in berry fruits – the same compounds which can intervene in cardiovascular disease and cancer, prevent infections, delay age-related declines, and dramatically enhance human metabolic performance – all by definition fall into a class known as secondary metabolites.  These compounds are not used by the berry plant for growth and metabolism, but instead, they accumulate in response to some environmental stress trigger, and are used by the plant in defensive or protective roles; or signaling roles as part of the plant’s overall survival strategy.  Therefore, it follows that the environment has a crucial influence on the levels of bioactive health-beneficial compounds harvested in berries, and can strongly influence the potency of the fruits for human health.  This presentation will explore the stress triggers that activate bioactive chemical production pathways in berries, and strategize on how to capitalize on these principles for outreach to the health-conscious berry consumer.  Comparisons will be drawn between berry crops adapted to diverse environmental regimes, including wild and cultivated berries from Mexican habitats, and the Pacific Northwest.  An experimental approach using controlled environments (in vitro plant production) helps to pinpoint some of the stress factors which elicit bioactive phytochemical accumulation in the field, and can also provide a novel way to track the progress of certain chemicals in the body, after they’ve been ingested.  Finally, some evidence for berries’ roles in adaptogenic responses (ability to enhance metabolic performance and endurance) will be presented.

Keywords:  bioactive phytochemicals, polyphenolics, metabolic-enhancement, stress-induction