University of Kentucky researchers may hold the answers for new plant-based pharmaceuticals and environmentally safe paint. Jan Smalle, a scientist in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, received a four-year $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study the mechanics of nanoharvesting plant flavonoids. Flavonoids are a complex collection of plant-made chemicals that have all kinds of functions within plants and also have many potential human health implications.
protect plants from sunlight and sunlight damage, help defend against
pathogens and are responsible for producing the colors of fruits and
"There has not been definitive research on plant
flavonoids that the Food and Drug Administration says makes them proven
to help human health, but research has shown there is a direct
correlation between people that have a lot of flavonoids in their diets
and lower instances of cancer, heart disease, dementia, improved blood
circulation and slower aging," said Smalle, an associate professor in
the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
increasing among food scientists in using flavonoids to color food
instead of the current coloring processes, which often rely on
synthesized fossil fuel-derived compounds. Flavonoids also have
potential for the paint industry as they could lead to more
environmentally friendly paint production and reduce the industry’s
dependence on fossil fuels.
Smalle and fellow UKAg
research scientist Jasmina Kurepa developed nanoharvesting, which
involves inserting titanium dioxide nanoparticles into a plant. Inside
the plant, the nanoparticles bind with flavonoids in cells. Plants then
secrete the nanoparticles coated with flavonoids.
this discovery, conducting research on flavonoids was difficult, as many
flavonoid species are unstable and degrade or become modified during
the classical isolation procedures. It was also hard for scientists to
deliver them to human cells for pharmaceutical research.
now have an extremely simple way to isolate these compounds," he said.
"It has the added advantage that this type of nanoparticle is known to
be taken up by human cells. We may now be able use these particles
coated with flavonoids directly in drug discovery."
same nanoparticles are also potentially useful for the paint industry.
Theoretically, the flavonoid-coated nanoparticles could be placed
directly into paint to provide color. An additional benefit is that
flavonoids have antimicrobial properties which may help exterior paint
last longer. Current exterior paints are often degraded over time by
Using the model plant Arabidopsis, Smalle will
look at the plant mechanisms and pathways involved in taking up
nanoparticles and then secreting them coated with flavonoids. His
research will also explore whether similar pathways exist and are as
efficient in other plants, especially agricultural plants that farmers
are already able to successfully produce.
green tea are supposed to help us live longer, but those are different
flavonoids than the ones in blueberries that provide us with other
health benefits, and those are different from the ones in chocolate,"
Kurepa said. "So if there is a simple and unified system to get
flavonoid-coated nanoparticles from everything, then that’s brilliant."