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Phytochemistry. 2003 Feb;62(3):247-69.

Recent advances in betalain research.

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Abteilung Sekundärstoffwechsel, Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie, Weinberg 3, D-06120 Halle (Saale), Germany.


Betalains replace the anthocyanins in flowers and fruits of plants of most families of the Caryophyllales. Unexpectedly, they were also found in some higher fungi. Whereas the anthocyanin-analogous functions of betalains in flower and fruit colouration are obvious, their role in fungi remains obscure. The nature of newly identified betalains as well as final structure elucidation of earlier putatively described compounds published within the last decade is compiled in this report. Recent advances in research on betalain biosynthesis is also covered, including description of some 'early' reactions, i.e. betalain-specific dopa formation in plants and fungi and extradiolic dopa cleavage in fungi. Work on betalain-specific glucosyltransferases (GTs) has given new insights into the evolution of secondary plant enzymes. It is proposed that these GTs are phylogenetically related to flavonoid GTs. It was found that the decisive steps in betalain biosynthesis, i.e. condensation of the betalain chromophore betalamic acid with cyclo-dopa and amino acids or amines in the respective aldimine formation of the red-violet betacyanins and the yellow betaxanthins, are most likely to be non-enzymatic. Betalains have attracted workers in applied fields because of their use for food colouring and their antioxidant and radical scavenging properties for protection against certain oxidative stress-related disorders.

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