Field trials and genetic studies have shown that a new variety of broccoli reliably yields higher levels of a health-promoting compound.
Broccoli contains a compound called glucoraphanin, which has been shown to promote health by maintaining cardiovascular health and a reduction in the risk of cancer. A long term breeding programme to increase glucoraphanin levels has resulted in the commercial release of Beneforté broccoli. Beneforté was developed by crossing standard broccoli with a wild relative derived from Sicily.
Publicly funded research to develop Beneforté broccoli was led by two of the UK's world-leading biological research institutes: the Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre, on the Norwich Research Park. They both receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Three years of field trials at over 50 different sites in Europe and the United states have shown that Beneforté broccoli consistently produces 2-3 times the amount of glucoraphanin than other leading varieties of broccoli, without affecting yield, quality or the levels of other nutrients.
Glucoraphanin contains sulphur, which broccoli derives from the soil. New research, published in the journal New Phytologist, shows that Beneforté increases the amount of sulphur it takes up from the soil, and also channels more of it into glucoraphanin. Genetic analysis identified a single gene derived from the original wild relative that is responsible for both of these changes. In standard broccoli varieties, different soils can cause variation in glucoraphanin levels. These findings explain how Beneforté consistently delivers more glucoraphanin than ordinary broccoli.
Professor Richard Mithen of the Institute of Food Research is now leading ongoing studies to understand how glucoraphanin in Beneforté exerts its effects on human health, with particular focus on the cardiovascular system and prostate cancer.
Beneforté broccoli was launched in the UK in 2011 and is available from Marks and Spencer and Asda.
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Genetic regulation of glucoraphanin accumulation in Beneforté broccoli, Traka, M. H. et al New Phytologist (2013) doi: 10.1111/nph.12232