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Phytochemistry. 2001 Mar;56(6):569-76.

Phytoecdysteroids in the genus Asparagus (Asparagaceae).

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Exeter, Hatherly Laboratories, Devon, UK.


Phytoecdysteroids, plant steroids which are analogues of invertebrate steroid hormones, probably contribute to the deterrence of phytophagous invertebrate predators. They also seem to possess antimicrobial activity and several pharmaceutical and medicinal benefits have been ascribed to them. Here. we present a survey of seeds of 16 species of the genus Asparagus (Asparagaceae), including the crop species A. officinalis, for ecdysteroid agonists (including phytoecdysteroids) and antagonists. Seven species were found to contain ecdysteroids with levels ranging from just detectable (A. racemosus and A. sarmentosus) to relatively high (A. laricinus). RP-HPLC/RIA/bioassay has been used to separate positive extracts of four species (A. falcatus, A. laricinus, A. ramosissimus and A. scandens) and analyse the ecdysteroid profiles. The identities of the major ecdysteroids were confirmed by NP-HPLC. Seeds of A. officinalis do not contain detectable levels of ecdysteroids, but leaves, stems and roots contain low levels (detectable by RIA). This indicates that A. officinalis retains the genetic capacity to synthesise ecdysteroids and that future strategies could be developed for enhanced protection of asparagus spears through elevated ecdysteroid levels.

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