While thinking about the importance of immunity for health, a recent discovery from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) here in Boulder, Colorado, caught my attention. Researchers discovered that plants respond to stress by producing significant amounts of methyl salicylate, a chemical form of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Thomas Karl, who led the NCAR research, says that when plants are stressed due to drought or disease, they produce a protein that "boosts their biochemical defences and reduces injury." This also means they produce VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that contribute to ground-level ozone, a common pollutant. Even more remarkable, the plants also communicate to neighbouring plants so they, too, can begin responding to the stressor before there are any visible signs of distress.
The breakthrough shines a light on plant behaviour and its impact on air quality. For years scientists have not been able to account for a certain percentage of VOCs. Now they may have the answer. For ingredients suppliers, the science could also potentially give their farmers an early warning signal about crops that are failing long before the first leaf wilts.
Given this new science, the professions of farmer and physician are ever more closely aligned by their interest in preventing and predicting disease before serious injury takes over. Whether the assault is a crop-destroying fungus in plants, an annoying cold or worse, a chronic illness in humans, the thin line between health and wellness is immunity. When all goes well, the pixels that make up this complex matrix are called wellness.
Unfortunately, wellness doesn't come in a single pill or a single treatment. And even more unfortunate, all too often medicine is built on reacting to illness rather than promoting wellness. In some cases, by the time symptoms are visible, like the farmer scouting a diseased field, illness is so pervasive that treatment is difficult. Perhaps one day, physicians will be able to detect when the cellular battle goes awry, as these NCAR scientists have discovered in plants. In the meantime, prevention is still the best defence. In Science Now, read about the latest ingredients that play a role in immune health and disease prevention.
Lastly, on page 26, you will note a first for Functional Ingredients — a letter to the editor. Despite the fact that this particular letter points out an editorial omission from the September issue of Fi, I was pleased to receive it because it means you are reading the magazine and care enough to reach out. I welcome more of your comments. Please send them to [email protected] . I read them all and will respond when appropriate.