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J Biomed Biotechnol. 2004;2004(5):314-320.

Nature's Swiss Army Knife: The Diverse Protective Roles of Anthocyanins in Leaves.

Abstract

Anthocyanins, the pigments responsible for spectacular displays of vermilion in the leaves of deciduous trees, have long been considered an extravagant waste of a plant's resources. Contemporary research, in contrast, has begun to show that the pigments can significantly influence the way a leaf responds to environmental stress. Anthocyanins have been implicated in tolerance to stressors as diverse as drought, UV-B, and heavy metals, as well as resistance to herbivores and pathogens. By absorbing high-energy quanta, anthocyanic cell vacuoles both protect chloroplasts from the photoinhibitory and photooxidative effects of strong light, and prevent the catabolism of photolabile defence compounds. Anthocyanins also mitigate photooxidative injury in leaves by efficiently scavenging free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Far from being a useless by-product of the flavonoid pathway, these red pigments may in some instances be critical for plant survival.

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