Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists found benefits of insect leaf-wounding in fruit and vegetable production. The stress responses created in the fruits and vegetables initiated an increase in antioxidant compounds prior to harvest, making them healthier for human consumption.
“Many studies in the past supported this idea, but many others showed no differences,” said Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Ph.D., AgriLife Research horticulture and food scientist in College Station and principal investigator for a study addressing this controversy. “In our study we proved that wounding leaves in plants like those caused by insects produce healthier organic fruit.”
“We conducted studies using strawberries as a crop model and applied various levels of wounding to the leaves a few days before harvesting the fruit. We found how several genes associated with sugar translocation and phenolic compound biosynthesis were overexpressed in the distant strawberry fruit,” said Facundo Ibanez, Ph.D., an investigator for the project associated with the Instituto Nacional de Investigacion Agropecuaria, Uruguay.
All plants have the ability to respond to the environment by activating the secondary metabolism as part of a defense mechanism or as part of an adaptation process. It also activates the primary metabolism, which will move the carbon source needed to produce those antioxidant compounds, explained Cisneros-Zevallos.
Ibanez said the study emphasized fresh produce as an excellent source of health-promoting compounds and that perhaps insects in some way can be allies to achieve even healthier produce.
Organic farming in recent years has experienced continued growth and a higher demand among consumers. This has had a positive large-scale impact on the organic industry, farmers and other industries related to organic produce, said Cisneros-Zevallos.