To the last drop... of cabbage

Photo: Fotolia
Photo: Fotolia

Scientists have found a method for squeezing the maximum amount of cabbage juice and separating fungicides and bactericides it contains. The resulting juice-based formulation could replace the chemicals used to protect plants and fruit.

"Each cabbage contains active substances called glucosinolates. When the plant is nibbled by a herbivore, or receives chemical contaminants from the soil, glucosinolates break down into two substances that are fungicidal, bactericidal and deterrent to herbivores. Their biocidal efficacy is comparable to synthetic pesticides" - told PAP Dr. Irena Grzywa-Niksińska from the Industrial Chemistry Research Institute in Warsaw.

These two substances are isothiocyanates and indoles that are also found in other cruciferous plants including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale. Scientists have determined, however, that the richest source is a variety of white cabbage, "Stone Head", commonly grown in Poland.

Fungicidal and bactericidal cabbage concentrate is the result of three years of work of researchers from the Industrial Chemistry Research Institute in Warsaw and their colleagues from the Faculty of Chemistry, Gdańsk University of Technology, and the University of Agriculture in Krakow.

Fungicidal substances plants use to deter herbivores are present in plants in very small quantities. "We have found a way to isolate these substances from the cabbage in large amounts and create a formulation that can be used wherever fungicidal and biocidal agents are necessary" - explained the scientist.

Particularly large amounts of glucosinolates are found in cabbage exposed to contact with heavy metals or growing in extreme conditions. Therefore, cabbage used to obtain the preparation can be grown on soils where nothing else can grow. Planted in such places, it will not only clean the soil of harmful substances, but also be a source of large amounts of biocides.

"Then we simply squeeze the juice of cabbage and isolate our biocidal compounds from the juice" - explained Dr. Grzywa-Niksińska. Only 800 ml of juice can be squeezed from 1 kg of cabbage, so you need a lot of heads to obtain adequate amounts of the compounds.

Such non-toxic, organic agent may replace synthetic pesticides used in crop protection. According to Grzywa-Niksińska, it can be also used to soak the seeds before planting, making them more resistant to fungi, and it can be used instead of chemicals to protect fruit during transportation and distribution. "We also plan to cooperate with cosmetic companies, because antibacterial agents are also used in cosmetics" - explained Dr. Grzywa-Niksińska.

The product, as a disinfectant, will also be used to destroy fungi in warehouses, slaughterhouses, hospitals, swimming pools. Its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties make it useful in paper production, to produce food packaging paper for use in adverse conditions such as high temperature or high humidity.

The study was conducted within the project UDA-POIG.01.03.01-00-138/09 The use of white cabbage for the purposes of phytoremediation and soil biofumigation, implemented under the Operational Programme Innovative Economy, 2009-2013.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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