An apple a day keeps blood cholesterol away

By Susan Fairbairn

In a world always looking for another superfood it appears granny had it right with the apple a day theory.

Not all apples are created equal and there is a variety, native to Southern Italy—Annurca—that has been proven to have the highest levels of polyphenolic compounds.

One particular compound, procyanidin, has shown an effect on cholesterol metabolism and in particular a study with Granny Smith apple extract resulted in a modest lowering of HDL-C cholesterol levels.

Italian researchers encouraged by the data took a small group and gave some one apple daily and others consumed two small Annurca apples daily.

This old cultivar, Malus pumila Miller cv Annurca is smaller than the usual commercial varieties.

The results were very promising for cholesterol lowering and so gastric resistant capsules at 800mg, were formulated and called AppleMetS and they did another study.

In a months time the impact on LDL-C and HDL-C was …..”An unprecedented result[s] never obtained with any other nutraceutical or drug and could be of clinical relevance in the cardiovascular disease primary prevention.

Further reading:

A Healthy Balance of Plasma Cholesterol by a Novel Annurca Apple-Based Nutraceutical Formulation: Results of a Randomized Trial

Gian Carlo Tenore, Domenico Caruso, Giuseppe Buonomo, Maria D’Avino, Pietro Campiglia, Luciana Marinelli, and Ettore Novellino
Journal of Medicinal Food, Vol. 20, No. 3, March 2017: 288-300.…/pdfpl…/10.1089/jmf.2016.0152…

Photo caption: In Vietnam the gods are offered apples
Credit: Susan Fairbairn


Get your hands off me

CAPTION This is an intact (center) chickpea flower suitable as pollen source, and with petals removed (right) showing pollen. CREDIT Thomas Stefaniak.

This is an intact (center) chickpea flower suitable as pollen source, and with petals removed (right) showing pollen.
Photo: Thomas Stefaniak.

Or how the humble chickpea reacts to breeding

Chickpeas don’t like to be touched according to two scientists with an interest in breeding new varieties.

Breeding for desirable traits – such as increased resistance to diseases and pests – is difficult.

In fact, it is “tedious and inefficient,” says Thomas Stefaniak, one of the scientists from North Dakota State University, involved in the study.

During the study the pair tried four different breeding methods for crossing chickpeas.

It is unclear what causes most crossing attempts with chickpeas to fail. “A common assumption is that chickpea flowers simply do not like to be touched by human hands,” says Stefaniak.

A lot of touching goes on in the process of plant breeding especially during a process called emasculation. 

Emasculation was not very successful and in fact seemed to lower rates of pollination.

Then they tried hormones.  Now who doesn’t like a good dose of hormones?  Just ask any menopausal woman.

And previously these hormones had been shown to increase the crossing efficiency between wild and cultivated species of chickpea. But Stefaniak and McPhee were not successful.

They also tried a combination of emasculation and hormone treatment. Again, they did not find any increase in crossing efficiency.

In conclusion, “The results of this study do not support using emasculation, hormone treatment or a combination of the two to improve crossing efficiency in chickpeas.”

So it’s back to the lab, the greenhouse and the field for Stefaniak as he turns his attention to environmental conditions in an attempt to successfully cross one of the worlds’ most important crops.

Plants under attack signal reinforcements with perfume

CAPTION Cabbage white caterpillars (Pieris brassicae) were one of the herbivore species used in the study. CREDIT (photo: Nicole Van Dam)

CAPTION Cabbage white caterpillars (Pieris brassicae) were one of the herbivore species used in the study.
CREDIT (photo: Nicole Van Dam)

An international research team has looked at how field mustard (Brassica rapa) reacted when attacked by insect pests, including caterpillars, aphids and even a slug.

The researchers found that the plants used different odours to attract the natural enemies of that particular insect.

Most surprisingly, different odour bouquets were used in response to exotic as opposed to native herbivores.

They found that the reactions to exotic and native herbivore species were not defined by a single volatile substance, but by the ratio of different volatiles.

The problem with exotic herbivores is that they may induce similar odours as native herbivores, thereby confusing native enemies that may not be able to handle the new hosts.

This was not the case in the study of van Dam and her colleagues: exotic herbivores, even if they had a similar way of feeding as their native counterparts, induced significantly different odour profiles.

Van Dam sees the results as “spectacular proof” of how specifically plants respond to their environment.

“The plants may not have a nervous system, eyes, ears, or mouths, but they are capable of determining who is attacking them.

“Based on this, they can transmit reliable information to specialised parasitic wasps that can learn the odours to find their preferred host.

“What I find truly amazing is that they’re even capable of distinguishing between a native and an exotic herbivore.”

This Kale story is different, the first of its kind.

image of the first tropical kale

Image of the first tropical kale

So up in the hot country we love Kale (Kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. virdis L.) because it doesn’t bolt in fact

I’ve never seen it flower not like most of the other brassicas, why because it needs, cool weather, >7 C for 6–8 weeks.

Mr Singh, and colleagues from the ICAR-Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, in India, however, have discovered a tropical Kale, they say the first in the world, one that flowers, and sets seed in temperatures ranging from 11.8–23.5 C . They named it, ‘VRKALE-1’

Do we care if it seeds? Well consider the ramifications of sterility and you have your answer. More importantly it will allow growers living in remote parts of the world, the ones that can’t pop down to the Yates stand, access to this amazing vegetable.

In his research paper Mr Singh points out that Kale contains as much Vitamin A as carrots. An amount of vitamin C (nearly four times that of oranges and limes), and is a good source of vitamin B complex and minerals.

He quotes others in pointing out that Kale has a higher bio-availability of calcium (Ca) than milk. He also points out that Kale contains compounds called glucosinolates that when broken down (chewed, cut, cooked) create byproducts that protect against prostate and colon cancers. Then there are carotenes and Omega 3 fatty acids. Are you convinced of its super powers now?

Plants cheat too: A new species of fungus-parasitizing orchid

Don't be cheated by the looks, this delicate and frail new species of orchid, parasitizes on fungus.

Don’t be cheated by the looks, this delicate and frail new species of orchid, parasitizes on fungus.

Plants usually produce their own nutrients by using sun energy, but not all of them.

A new ‘cheater’ species of orchid from Japan, lives off nutrients obtained via a special kind of symbiosis with fungi.

The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The new orchid species, named Lecanorchis tabugawaensis, is by far not on its own in its strange feeding habits. The so called mycoheterotrophic plants are found among all plant species groups.

Mycoheterotrophy is a term derived from Greek to describe the bizarre symbiotic relationship between some plants and fungi, where the plant gets nutrients parasitizing upon fungi, rather than using photosynthesis.

Considered a kind of a cheating relationship, these plants are sometimes informally referred to as “mycorrhizal cheaters”.

Having long attracted the curiosity of botanists and mycologists, a common feature of most mycoheterotrophic plants is their extreme scarcity and small size.

In addition, most species are hiding in the dark understory of forests, only discoverable during the flowering and fruiting period when aboveground organs appear through the leaf litter.

Despite it seems like these ‘cheating’ plants have it all easy for themselves, in reality they a are highly dependent on the activities of both the fungi and the trees that sustain them.

Such a strong dependency makes this fascinating plant group particularly sensitive to environmental destruction.

“Due to the sensitivity of mycoheterotrophic plants it has long been suggested that their species richness provides a useful indicator of the overall floral diversity of forest habitats. A detailed record of the distribution of these vulnerable plants therefore provides crucial data for the conservation of primary forests.” explains leading author Dr Kenji Suetsugu, Kobe University.

Just discovered, the new orchid species has been already assessed with an IUCN status – Critically Endangered. With a distribution restricted to only two locations along the Tabu and Onna Rivers, Yakushima Island, this fungus-eating cheater might need some conservation attention.


Article edited by Susan Fairbairn original by Pensoft Publishers

Suetsugu K, Fukunaga H (2016) Lecanorchis tabugawaensis (Orchidaceae, Vanilloideae), a new mycoheterotrophic plant from Yakushima Island, Japan. PhytoKeys 73: 125-135. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.73.10019