Vegetables’ nutrition may be affected by their circadian rhythms

winter vegetables

Photo by liz west [muffet] via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Thanks to J, I came across an article yesterday from fellow Madisonian Kate Prengaman that details some cool new science. Writing for Ars Technica, Prengaman describes the work of a Texas scientist and trainees in her lab:

Researchers at Rice University have shown that some plants have circadian rhythms, adjusting their production of certain chemicals based on their exposure to light and dark cycles. Understanding and exploiting these rhythms could help us maximize the nutritional value of the vegetables we eat.

According to Janet Braam, a professor of biochemistry at Rice, her team’s initial research looked at how Arabidopsis, a common plant model for scientists, responded to light cycles. “It adjusts its defense hormones before the time of day when insects attack,” Braam said. Arabidopsis is in the same plant family as the cruciforous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, and kale—so Braam and her colleagues decided to look for a similar light response in our foods.

As Jade Boyd of Rice’s press office describes in a feature about the findings,

Braam said the idea for the new research came from a conversation with her teenage son.

“I was telling him about the earlier work on Arabidopsis and insect resistance, and he said, ‘Well, I know what time of day I’ll eat my vegetables!’ Braam said. “That was my ‘aha!’ moment. He was thinking to avoid eating the vegetables when they would be accumulating the anti-insect chemicals, but I knew that some of those chemicals were known to be valuable metabolites for human health, so I decided to try and find out whether vegetables cycle those compounds based on circadian rhythms.”

It’s pretty nifty stuff, so check out Prengaman’s article here and Boyd’s writeup (as well as photos and videos) here.

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