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July 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

A collaboration between the NRC Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI) and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) recently received attention in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. The May 4, 2004 edition published a paper on research led by Dr. Bernhard Juurlink from the College of Medicine at U of S, which demonstrated that broccoli sprouts (baby broccoli) may increase the body's defenses against heart disease and stroke.

Broccoli spoutsBroccoli spouts are a rich source of chemicals known as phase 2 protein inducers which, as their name implies, promote the production of proteins known to reduce the impact of highly-damaging free radicals produced during the body's normal metabolism. Free radicals cause damage to essential cell molecules in a manner similar to the "rusting" or oxidation of iron. The research team determined that natural defenses to this oxidation process can be increased by eating foods rich in phase 2 inducers. The findings are important because previous studies have mainly focused on the impact of anti-oxidants on cancer alone.

To build upon this study, researchers will need to cultivate broccoli with uniformly high-levels of phase 2 protein inducers, glucoraphanin in particular. Expertise from NRC-PBI is being used to meet this goal. Over the past ten years NRC's Dr. Alison Ferrie has perfected a breeding technique known as microspore embryogenesis. This new approach makes it possible to produce a true-breeding line of plants in a single generation, saving years of selective breeding.

For NRC-PBI the collaboration reflects the ongoing efforts to develop a new technology cluster in Saskatoon focused on the development of plants for enhanced human health. The project also underlines the close relationship between plants and medicine.

For example, Saskatoon's burgeoning nutraceutical community also relies heavily on the same kind of uniformity in plant attributes demanded by Dr. Juurlink's study. Because of the genetic diversity in nutraceutical plants, there is still much variability in the quality and potency of the bioactive compounds in many of these specialty crops. But growers want to be able to guarantee the quality of their product. That's why Dr. Ferrie is working on ways to enhance the uniformity of plants grown for their therapeutic attributes. "There's tremendous economic potential in the production of nutraceuticals," she says. "At NRC- PBI we are looking for better ways to improve the quality, potency and consistency of these products."

Research collaborations such as the one with the U of S will help NRC achieve these goals.


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