Plant Cells as Food

Occasionally I read a journal article and my first response is “Really?” “Why in the world would somebody do that?” This is one such article. These researchers took cloudberry, lingonberry and stone berry (a type of raspberry) tissues and put them into test tubes. This process called tissue or cell culture takes living tissues, puts them into a test tube, adds a cocktail of nutrients and hormones so that the cells divide, and the result is a mass of actively dividing cells that will grow into large blobs of cells. As long as the nutrients and hormone levels are maintained, the cells will divide and divide.

Many years ago, when I was a grad student in Minnesota, other students were working on these cell cultures to see if the mass of cells in the test tubes could be used to harvest large quantities of useful chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bio pesticides and more. Rather than growing the whole plant such as the chrysanthemum-type flower that is the source of the pesticide pyrethrum, you could farm the cells and harvest the pyrethrum from the masses of cells.

Well this study takes cell farming to a new level. You are making masses of cells in a test tube so you can eat them! Rather than enjoying the trek into the woods, filling your bucket full of luscious berries, taking them home, filling your kitchen with the incredible aroma of lingonberry syrup, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor on a pile of pancakes, you will scoop out a mass of pinkish cells from a test tube, and eat them –– not sure how you prepare them. The fresh cells have a “sandy, grainy” texture. Yum!

The research was completed because of the claim that we will be running out of food on this planet because of increased population growth. Using current technology of farming, we will not have enough to feed the world. The solution is cell farming!

My opinion? I’d rather eat sawdust!

Plant cells as food – A concept taking shape (Berry cultures)

Emilia Nordlund, Martina Lille, Pia Silventoinen, Heli Nygren, Tuulikki Seppänen-Laakso, Atte Mikkelson, Anna-Marja Aura, Raija-Liisa Heiniö, Liisa Nohynek, Riitta Puupponen-Pimiä, Heiko Rischer, Food Research International Volume 107, May 2018, Pages 297–305

Abstract

Plant cell cultures from cloudberry, lingonberry and stoneberry were studied in terms of their nutritional properties as food. Carbohydrate, lipid and protein composition, in vitro protein digestibility and sensory properties were investigated. Dietary fibre content varied between 21.2 and 36.7%, starch content between 0.3 and 1.3% and free sugar content between 17.6 and 33.6%. Glucose and fructose were the most abundant sugars. High protein contents between 13.7 and 18.9% were recorded and all samples had a balanced amino acid profile. In vitro protein digestion assay showed hydrolysis by digestive enzymes in fresh cells but only limited hydrolysis in freeze-dried samples. The lipid analysis indicated that the berry cells were rich sources of essential, polyunsaturated fatty acids. In sensory evaluation, all fresh berry cells showed fresh odour and flavour. Fresh cell cultures displayed a rather sandy, coarse mouthfeel, whereas freeze-dried cells melted quickly in the mouth. All in all the potential of plant cells as food was confirmed.

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Bears Like Devil’s Club Berries

For anyone living along southeast Alaska’s coast, the fact that bears like devil’s club berries is a no brainer. Laurie Hart and Taal Levi from Oregon State University demonstrated for the first time that bears not only eat the berries, but they are the main reason devil’s club grows where it does. They are the major seed dispersers of devil’s club in coastal Alaska (their plots were near Haines). This article is a fun read because the authors not only sampled bear manure piles but set up motion detection cameras and swabbed the remains of berry clusters to search for DNA trails from brown and black bears (and even distinguished between male and female bears!)

Brown bears eat the berries first in the season (starting in mid July), then the black bears come in (early to mid August). Birds amounted to about 20% of the feeding and included robins as well as Swainson’s, hermit and varied thrush. When bears chomp on a cluster of devil’s club berries, they devout more than 70% of the fruit. Female bears devour more fruit than males of both species. Both species ate about 30 berries per second or about 100,000 berries per hour! Factoring in the density of bears, they estimated bears disperse over 200,000 seeds per hour per square kilometer! Wow! After the bears have their lunch, additional dispersal occurs from small mammals and squirrels. The next time you have to hack you way through a devil’s club thicket with a machete, blame the bears!

Devil’s club and bears

Ethnobotany of the Naukan speakers, Chukotka District, Russian Far East and Western Alaska

Ethnobotany

The attached link is an article written by Kevin Jernigan, Olga S. BelichenkoValeria B. Kolosova and Darlene J. Orr that compares uses of plants including berries from the past through elder recollections compared to present uses.  They also compared usage with communities in Nome and Kotzebue. Edible plant use has dropped overall from previous years (13%) but the awareness of medicinal uses has skyrocketed (+225%) no doubt because of the interest in antioxidants and other bioactive components. I completed a similar project in the mid 1990s in Ft. Yukon, Alaska and found about a 20% drop in native plant uses, but my project was before all the interest in antioxidants. 

Some of the plants whose use had actually increased include: wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum), tilsey sage (Artemisia tilesii), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), river beauty (Epilobium (Camerion) latifolium, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), sour dock, (Rumex arcticus), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). The plant locally called stinkweed or tilsey sage is interesting because I found it mentioned in nearly every ethnobotanical reference written in Alaska. It has extensive medicinal uses throughout the state and now the Russian Far East. All the berries mentioned are also the most popular berries harvested in northern Alaska. The berry with the greatest increase in uses from the past is mesutaq better known as masru, lingonberry or low bush cranberry. No surprise there!

 

Healthy Northern Berries Improve Glucose Utilization

This study from Norway centered around glucose control in the liver. The researchers studied the pathways of glucose uptake and described the enzymes used in the final steps of carbohydrate digestion as alpha-amylase and alpha glucosidase. Any chemical that inhibits these enzymes will slow glucose uptake in the liver and be a benefit to anyone dealing with type 2 diabetes. They studies a lot of berries (bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), black currants (Ribes nigrum),  bog whortleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), red currant (Ribes rubric), rowan berries (mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia), and sea buckthorn (Hippophae (Elaeagnus) rhamnoides). The phenolic compounds in all the berries inhibited response the enzymes that promote glucose uptake. Some berries had other chemicals that actually promoted glucose uptake: mountain ash and bilberry being the highest. The berries with the most powerful inhibitors were crowberry, cloudberry, bog whortleberry (bog blueberry), and lingonberry with crowberry being ranked number 1!

molecules-22-01806-v2

Taste testing Finnish Honey

This is an interesting research paper from the University of Turku, Finland, the Finnish Beekeepers Association and the Tallin University, Estonia. The researchers conducted sensory taste testing and completed chemical profiles of several Finnish honeys (buckwheat, cloudberry, lingonberry, white sweet clover, willow herb (fireweed) and mixed flower honeys (composed of flowering mustards, clover and raspberry, and a member of the genus, Vaccinium). They found a total of 73 compounds that contribute to the aroma of the honeys. They also tested flavor, smell, color and texture with a panel of 62 people. Buckwheat honey was described as malty with a cheese- and fecal-like and cow- and barn-like aroma. Some called it “earthy”! They found that cloudberry honey had the highest level of aromatic compounds of those tested. It was described as pungent, solvent-like, herbal and citrus-like. Lingonberry honey was described as pleasant and sweet with notes of vanilla and caramel. The others were rated well because they were most familiar to the panelists and their pleasant aromas. The honey samples that rated poorly because of strong, unfamiliar odor, flavor and aftertaste as well as dark color were buckwheat and cloudberry! Both were strongly negative in consumer appeal.

I have eaten buckwheat honey, and it is as strong and “earthy” as described, more like a molasses rather than honey, but still good especially for baking. To lump cloudberry in the category is amazing! I have never seen a beekeeper sell cloudberry honey – not enough flowers in one location, I suspect, but it doesn’t sound like anything I would invest in! Lingonberries and fireweed – yes!

Kortesniemi, M., Rosenvald, S., Laaksonen, O., Vanag, A., Ollikka, T., Vene, K., Yang, B., Sensory and chemical profiles of Finnish honeys of different botanical origins and consumer preferences, Food Chemistry (2017), doi: Honey article

 

Thaw-degree days in Fairbanks

For a garden club presentation I gave this past spring, I graphed the weather records from the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to look at changes over time. The biggest one goes back to 1948 and is for thaw degree days. This chart is a broad indicator of the warmth of the season. Average daily air temperature records are subtracted from a baseline temp of 32F. This assumes that plant growth occurs at any temp above 32F but not below. This is not quite accurate because cell sap does not freeze at exactly 32F, and there are Alaska native plants that can grow at temps that are a few degrees below 32F. On the other end of the spectrum, garden plants have all kinds of lower limits to growth- cool season crops are often around 40 – 45F below which growth stops. Warm season crops are more like 50F and above. However, choosing 32F at least allows a comparison of the seasons. The thaw degree- day (TDD) chart is split into three just to fit it onto a page. Check out the differences among years and the mean TDD on each chart. The timeline is waaaay too short to make conclusions on climate change, but it is interesting to see the incredible variation from year to year.      1948 – 2016 Thaw degree days

More anti microbial activity in lingonberries

This study explored the antimicrobial activity of the antioxidant phenolic compounds in lingonberry juice and two other fruits in spoiled fruit juice. They studied Asaia lannensis and  Asaia bogorensis, two well known bacteria that are a significant contributor to the degradation of non-alcoholic fruit juices. These bacteria create biofilms  that cause turbidity and adhesion of the juice on surfaces holding the juice. These biofilms, in turn, can cause illness in susceptible individuals. The bacteria are also becoming resistant to a lot of the chemical preservatives used now in juices. The authors found that lingonberry juice added to the product shows a 67% reduction in adhesions from the bacteria. We all knew lingonberries were great. The evidence keeps mounting!

Wild Fruits as Antiadhesive Agents Against the Beverage-Spoiling Bacteria Asaia spp.

Hubert Antolak,  Agata Czyzowska  , Marijana Saka , Aleksandra Mišan , Olivera  uragi´c and Dorotea Kregiel Institute of Fermentation Technology and Microbiology, Lodz University of Technology, Wolczanska 171/173, 90-924 Lodz, Poland; agata.czyzowska@p.lodz.pl (A.C.); and Institute of Food Technology Novi Sad, Bulevar cara Lazara 1, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia;

Abstract: The aim of the study was to evaluate antioxidant activity and total phenolic content of juice from three different types of fruits: elderberry (Sambucus nigra), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), and their action against adhesion of bacterial strains of Asaia lannensis and Asaia bogorensis isolated from spoiled soft drinks. The antioxidant profiles were determined by total antioxidant capacity (2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl, DPPH), and ferric-reducing antioxidant power (FRAP). Additionally, total polyphenol content (TPC) was investigated. Chemical compositions of juices were tested using the chromatographic techniques: high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Adhesion properties of Asaia spp. cells to various abiotic materials were evaluated by luminometry, plate count and fluorescence microscopy. Antioxidant activity of fruit juices expressed as inhibitory concentration (IC50) ranged from 0.042 0.001 (cornelian cherry) to 0.021 0.001 g/mL (elderberry). TPC ranged from 8.02 0.027 (elderberry) to 2.33 0.013 mg/mL (cornelian cherry). Cyanidin-3-sambubioside-5-glucoside, cyanidin-3-glucoside, and cyanidin-3-sambubioside were detected as the major anthocyanins and caffeic, cinnamic, gallic, protocatechuic, and p-coumaric acids as the major phenolic acids. A significant linear correlation was noted between TPC and antioxidant capacity. In the presence of fruit juices a significant decrease of bacterial adhesion from 74% (elderberry) to 67% (lingonberry) was observed. The high phenolic content indicated that these content indicated that these compounds may contribute to the reduction of Asaia  spp. adhesion.

2017 VVI