Optimizing plants for flavor, nutrition, and pharmaceutical content

Arielle Johnson

Note: On Oct. 25, 2021, the PLOS journal reporting the research associated with this project retracted the publication.

Flavor, in addition to making our food delicious, is one way of sensing biochemical richness. A highly flavorful plant generally contains a greater quantity and diversity of molecules—often with useful functional roles in our own metabolism—than a bland-tasting plant. 

Flavor is a built-in reward for eating plants that has fueled our drive to domesticate and breed a massive biodiversity of vegetation over the last 10,000 years. OpenAg is going deep into the biochemical machinery, evolution, and ecology of plants to make growing food for the optimization of specific chemical profiles (flavor, pharmaceutical properties, nutrition) a reality.

Plants rely on rich and diverse chemistry for self-defense and stress adaptation. OpenAg is working to induce a plant to synthesize these molecules by adding specific stresses to the plant’s environment and measuring chemical shifts.

These specialized metabolite molecules can manifest as flavor, pharmaceutical compounds, and rich nutritional profiles. Flavor itself is frequently tied to additional healthful bio-activities for humans—such as vitamins, antioxidants, stimulants, and nutrients.