Plows and Pitchforks

Plows and Pitchforks
We've all seen the science fiction flicks about monster insects or plants that can talk and chase you. Some of these also include magical cures or human-like machines that once imbibed, can allow someone to live indefinitely.

South Dakota State University researchers Fathi Halaweish and Amir Ibrahim aren't trying to make plants talk; although they are working with experimental lines of wheat to maximize their cancer-fighting properties. These properties, commonly known as antioxidants are defined by the Ohio State University Extension Service as "compounds in fruits and vegetables that may be helpful in avoiding chronic disease. They act as a defense system against oxidative damage in our bodies."

The oxidative damage mentioned here stems from what are known as 'free radicals.' According to Virginia Tech, free radicals are oxygen atoms that lose electrons when food is converted to energy in a process called oxidation. These 'radicals' try to take electrons from other atoms in the body. The result of all of this contributes to the likelihood of cancers and other chronic diseases.


The work being done by Dr. Halaweish and Dr. Ibrahim has the potential to deliver antioxidants to your home in the form of food, rather than other forms of medications. Dr. Ibrahim stated that "antioxidants actually fight cancer. Basically, they scavenge and remove free radicals that damage DNA." The SDSU publication, "Farm and Home Research, volume 57 number 2" outlines their project quite well. The fact that wheat cultivars have differing antioxidant and orthophenolic content has been known for years.

The result of their research could have major implications for South Dakota's wheat farmers as well. Lance Nixon of Farm and Home Research reported that "producers will be given a tool that will allow them to know what level of antioxidant activity they have in their wheat." That knowledge could lead to new marketing system that rewards producers for the antioxidant and orthophenolic content of their grain.

It seems that this type of wheat could be grown outside of South Dakota as well. However, there are differences in the antioxidant contents of wheat that are influenced not only by the type of wheat, but by geography and soil type as well. For example, the wheat they planted near Winner sported the highest antioxidant properties.

Dr. Ibrahim pointed out in the Farm and Home Research article that, "you can have this antioxidant activity from selenium, from vitamin E, and from orthophenolics. So if you can combine these three in one product, you have three means to fight cancer, to fight age-causing processes."

South Dakota soils do not typically lack selenium, where soils are high in selenium, wheat is effective at "mining"selenium from the soil. That is what Dr. Ibrahim was referring to. According to Farm and Home Research, the South Dakota Wheat Commission is funding this project as part of a broader study dealing with selenium in wheat.

This study by SDSU will contribute to agriculture in South Dakota by continuing to differentiate the state from other wheat producing regions. The results will be far reaching and could open new marketing strategies for South Dakota's wheat producers.

Soils containing selenium or other mineral elements are challenging to study, the minerals contained in them can only be found where the soil type is found; similar to hunting for gold. Have you read your soil survey lately?

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