Nutrigenomics and Biostimulants
Naturally optimizing crop potential
The basic unit of every living organism is the cell. At the center of each cell is the nucleus, containing the genetic material known as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). This DNA is the blueprint for all components necessary to build and maintain cells. DNA is made up of genes, which instruct the plant how to produce of specific proteins that carry out the biological work of the cell.
A cell contains the genes for thousands of proteins. Cells of similar structure and function are organized into tissues (vascular, epidermal, ground and meristematic) that form roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits. Each part of a plant performs a specific function, allowing it to live and grow. Because cells are constantly growing, dying and being replaced, new proteins must be generated continuously.
Steps in Gene Expression:
Each gene within a cell carries the code for a specific protein. Although all cells contain the complete genetic code, only a fraction of the genes are “switched on” or expressed, depending on cell type and the availability of nutrients, bioactive compounds and other stimuli.
When gene expression is activated or upregulated by nutrition, messenger RNA (mRNA) is transcribed from the DNA code, making a “copy.” Depending on available nutrients, transcription can also be suppressed, or downregulated. This is how cells regulate which proteins will be made.
Cell machinery translates the mRNA, reading the genetic code and manufacturing the specified proteins.
Cells produce thousands of proteins, which act and interact in specific ways as part of larger biological functions (growth, reproduction, photosynthesis and so on). Regulating gene expression influences these biological functions.
What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrition affects the process of gene expression described above. One analytical tool called the microarray or gene chip lets researchers compare the effects that various nutrient packages have on plant gene expression.
Knowing which genes are being upregulated or downregulated offers a window into understanding changes in growth and performance. Sophisticated analysis of this information provides important clues about how to further optimize plant function and health.
Unlike recent technologies such as genetic modification, which involve the alteration of an organism’s genetic code, the study of nutrigenomics simply observes how plants’ naturally occurring genes are influenced by nutrition, bioactive compounds and other stimuli.
In 2008, Alltech’s pioneering nutrigenomic research took a leap forward with the construction of a dedicated nutrigenomics research facility in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Over the following years, nutrigenomic breakthroughs revealed how to naturally optimize plant health and performance, in crops ranging from corn to citrus.
Reaching peak performance with biostimulants
For an athlete to reach peak performance, they must do more than train. A proper diet is an important aspect to providing muscles the nutrients they need to recover and grow. Elite athletes often supplement their diets with vitamins, minerals, creatine and other compounds. An athlete’s genes and physiology respond to these substances, allowing them to increase physical power and enhance mental strength, gaining a competitive advantage. In a similar way, plants respond to certain substances known as biostimulants.
Plant biostimulants are diverse substances and microorganisms used to enhance plant growth. These products sometimes go by other names, such as plant strengtheners and conditioners, phytostimulants, biofertilizers, bioactivators, or soil, yield, crop and plant growth enhancers.
Nutrigenomics and biostimulants
Biostimulants foster plant development in numerous ways throughout the crop life cycle, from seed germination to plant maturity. From improving metabolic efficiency to facilitating nutrient translocation, these compounds can lead to increases in yield, quality, stress tolerance and even water use efficiency.
Beyond simple nutrition, the science of nutrigenomics can examine how gene expression is influenced by these unique biostimulating compounds, enabling formulations specifically tailored for the desired crop outcome.
Despite growing use in recent years, few countries have formally recognized this new category. As a result, most products in this category are currently recognized by governmental regulators as either fertilizers or plant protection products.