Effects of Growing Conditions on Plant Medicinal Bioactives
Nutraceuticals are foods containing medicinally active plant secondary metabolites that can be beneficial to human health, but it is hubris to think that the plants make these secondary metabolites solely for our benefit. Plants make secondary metabolites in order to adapt, survive and thrive in hostile environments. Plants cannot flee from danger or migrate to a new place in search of better opportunities for growth. Plants must sense changes in their environments and respond to those changes through the production of specialized chemicals. Plants sense their environment through a complex system of plant growth regulators and signaling molecules including melatonin and serotonin. When faced with an environmental challenge, plants produce these signaling molecules to initiate metabolic cascades that redistribute metabolic resources. Changing climates are exposing plants to more and different challenges than they have previously encountered, and these environmental cues are stimulating plants to alter secondary metabolite production. This chapter will highlight some of the plant responses to changing climates and the impact of changing environments on medicinally active plant chemicals in nutraceuticals.