Plant secondary metabolites. Occurrence, structure, and role in the human diet

Plant secondary metabolites. Occurrence, structure, and role in the human diet 

A Crozier, M N Clifford, and H Ashihara 

Oxford: Blackwell Publishing | 2006 | 372pp | ?99.50 (HB) | ISBN 9781405125093 

Reviewed by David Seigler

Research on the structure, distribution, synthesis, function, biosynthesis, enzymology, and molecular biology of plant secondary metabolites continues unabated. The editors of this volume, along with a cast of 18 other contributors, have produced a compact volume in which advances in a majority of important groups of plant secondary metabolites are highlighted. The pathways leading to each cluster of compounds are clearly produced and include much valuable information: the structures are accurate and well drawn.  

Up-to-date acronyms for enzymes from the figures are explained in the legends and in the text and in many cases linked to new developments in molecular biology. In each instance important leading references are given. There is a sprinkling of information concerning where the compounds occur and some important roles as food and beverage components. An initial chapter on phenolics presents recent advances in biosynthesis and genetic engineering of the flavonoid biosynthetic pathway in an effective manner. A chapter on sulfur-containing compounds, largely from the mustards and their relatives, and from onions, garlic, leeks and the like, deals with many compounds of current interest as health-related phytochemicals.  

In a masterly chapter dealing with terpenes, many complex aspects of terpene biosynthesis are explained. Because of the intricacies involved and the lack of other good resources, this chapter is especially valuable. Subsequent chapters on alkaloids and acetylenes complete this aspect of the book. Using almost the reverse approach, there is a chapter in which the major dietary phytochemicals of a variety of food and beverage plants are outlined.  

Lest the reader forget that this is a book largely by and for food scientists, there are chapters probing the nature of the human intestinal flora and a chapter dealing with absorption and metabolism of the substances found in foods. These two chapters provide a link to human diets that is often not considered by those more interested in the biochemistry and in vitro biological activity of plant secondary metabolites. 

In summary, I’d strongly recommend the book for a variety of scientists. Not only is it up to date, but it is also very readable. The topics are related to the real world of food science in an effective way. Most scientists (including graduate students) in areas of study related to chemistry, biology and food science will find the book of value and a good investment.