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Sprouts: a valuable functional food in search of evaluation

Guest edited by Simona Baima

New Content ItemGenes and Nutrition is proud to share our latest thematic series, the scope of which links plant biologists and food chemists with cell biology and clinical researchers to develop a scientific understanding of how sprouts consumption may improve diets and how sprouts fortification can help to maintain health, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and lead to healthy ageing. The series will feature invited topic reviews and research articles by leaders in the field, with a focus on research addressing the critical issue of standardization of the experimental design for the evaluation of health potential of plant-derived whole foods such as sprouts.

A lot of research on sprouts is focused on improving nutraceutical content by:

  • Elicitation (signaling/transcriptional response to environment/stress)
  • Genotypes/genome mining of different species (genes-pathway-products association)
  • Biotechnology/synthetic biology for pathway reconstruction in different species

But the question remains: How can we standardize and evaluate the nutraceutical potential of plant-derived whole foods (not isolated compounds)?

As sessile organisms, plants produce thousands of chemicals with different functions that allow them to interact, adapt, and survive in a far from ideal environment. Interestingly, many of the compounds that plants synthetize to protect themselves have been shown to have an impact on the health of organisms who consume them, exerting a protective effect. Individual plant species differ enormously in the number and types of specialized chemicals they produce, and metabolic complexity is further enhanced by genotype x environment interactions. In addition to nutrients, secondary metabolites, peptides, small RNA, and nanovescicles are increasingly being implicated as functional components of plant foods. Recently, increasing interest has been shown by nutritionists towards young plant seedlings (sprouts), as they possess higher nutritional value than adult plants. Sprouts can be easily grown as they only need water and light and are always available, irrespective of the season. Sprouts can be consumed raw, thus avoiding loss of bioactive molecules during cooking and/or processing. Therefore, sprouts are considered a natural functional food that can be further enriched in valuable phytochemicals by elicitation, i.e. manipulation of growth conditions to trigger the synthesis and accumulation of bioactive secondary metabolites.

Nonetheless, this high metabolic flexibility also contributes to the compositional variability that challenges the scientific assessment of the benefits of plant foods. Furthermore, attaining compositional changes is not sufficient per se. Functional testing of the bioactivity of standardized biofortified plant-based foods on in vitro and in vivo models and human intervention studies are necessary to demonstrate nutritional improvement and health-related effects in humans.

This collection of articles has not been sponsored and articles have undergone the journal’s standard peer-review process. The Guest Editors declare no competing interests.

Please find out more about our journal and its policies, here. Submission guidelines can be found here, and please submit to the series via our submission system (there will be a field for which you can indicate if you are submitting to this series).

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