The green biomass of horticultural plants contains valuable secondary metabolites (SM), which can potentially be extracted and sold. When exposed to stress, plants accumulate higher amounts of these SMs, making the extraction and commercialization even more attractive.
Researchers evaluated the potential for accumulating the flavones cynaroside and graveobioside A in leaves of two bell pepper cultivars (Mavras and Stayer) when exposed to salt stress (100 mM NaCl), UVA/B excitation (UVA 4–5 W/m2; UVB 10–14 W/m2 for 3 h per day), or a combination of both stressors. Plant age during the trials was 32–48 days. HPLC analyses proved the enhanced accumulation of both metabolites under stress conditions. Cynaroside accumulation is effectively triggered by high-UV stress, whereas graveobioside A contents increase under salt stress.
Highest contents of secondary metabolites were observed in plants exposed to combined stress. Effects of stress on overall plant performance differed significantly between treatments, with least negative impact on above ground biomass found for high-UV stressed plants. The usage of two non-destructive instruments (Dualex and Multiplex) allowed the researchers to gain insights into the ontogenetical effects at the leaf level and temporal development of SM contents. Indices provided by those devices correlate fairly with amounts detected via HPLC (Cynaroside: r2 = 0.46–0.66; Graveobioside A: r2 = 0.51–0.71).
The concentrations of both metabolites tend to decrease at leaf level during the ontogenetical development even under stress conditions. High-UV stress should be considered as a tool for enriching plant leaves with valuable SM. Effects on the performance of plants throughout a complete production cycle should be evaluated in future trials. All data is available online.