Plant find could help uproot poverty


Israeli scientists believe they have found a way to keep leafy green vegetables fresh for much longer than is currently possible - without harming their appearance, taste or texture.

Rivka Elbaum of the Hebrew University has identified a liquid that stops the vegetables from turning bad.

By immersing the leaves in the solution, her team of scientists managed to change the chemical balance of the plant tissue and prevent it from "starting the death processes" at the normal speed.

The solution, an approved food additive which is natural in origin, changes the shelf-life of the vegetable from days to weeks, according to the research.

Growers will be able to take advantage of her discovery when the process is commercialised in a year by Yissum, Hebrew University's technology transfer arm, she said.

It could extend the shelf-life of vegetables from days to weeks

According to experts in agricultural development, a key reason for poverty in Africa and India is that farmers cannot get their products to market before they rot because of a lack of adequate transport infrastructure.

The Israeli discovery therefore has the potential to lift millions of agricultural workers out of poverty.

Dr Elbaum made her discovery by accident, describing it as a "by-product" of other research.

Since 2009, she has headed a lab at the Hebrew University which studies the structure and composition of cell walls in plants.

Asked about possible consumer concerns about the solution, Dr Elbaum said: "It's completely safe and there's evidence that it's a [health] benefit."

Yissum's CEO, Yaacov Michlin, said that the process would appeal to growers because it has potential to "considerably increase the profitability of leafy greens, which comprise a large fraction of the fresh vegetable market."

He said: "The novel method invented by Dr Elbaum is a simple, low-cost solution for delaying senescence in leafy greens, thereby increasing their shelf life."

Yissum is currently looking at the different ways in which the solution can be applied to vegetables, including the possibility of using a spray instead of immersion.

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