Beta Carotene is the molecule that gives carrots their orange colour, and part of a family of chemicals known as carotenoids. Many fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids.
Beta Carotene has gained recent reputation as a super-food, because the human body easily converts Beta Carotene into vitamin A, which is very essential for keeping our bodies healthy, and is also an anti-oxidant that keeps at bay the free radicals that cause cancer. Because of the increasing interest in its value, scientists have discovered rare variations of a maize gene(crtRB1) that can be used to influence an 18-fold increase in Beta-carotene content of other maize varieties.
The relationship between beta carotene, the orange colour, recent scientific research and its nutrient value elicits much curiosity about it. Top on the list is the effect of beta carotene on colour, and on plant growth .
It has long been established that light is very crucial in plant life, because photosynthesis depends on it. Photosynthesis is the process by which water molecules are broken , and hydrogen derived from it is used to form carbohydrates-plant food. Proteins and pigments in Chloroplasts- structures in plants that process sunlight for use in photosynthesis- react differently to light.
Chlorophyll and carotenoids- both present in Chloroplasts- absorb differing wavelengths of light. Chlorophyll absorb light most efficiently in the red and violet areas of the spectrum while reflecting the green light. Carotenoids absorb light most efficiently in the blue area-they absorb the green light.
The significance of this is that the colour of light signals to a plant how to grow by activating Chloroplasts. Chlorophylls dominate in growing plants, absorbing reds and blues and reflecting greens and yellows. As Summer fades, and Autumn sets in the light tends to be yellower triggering carotenoids to reflect the reds and yellows, while absorbing the green light. At this time of the season Chloroplast suppresses Chlorophyll and the vegetative part of the plant shrinks as the seeds and flowers come out to produce the fruits. Carotenoids containing beta carotenoids help to ripen vegetables like tomatoes and carrots.
Furthermore, beta carotene is part of bio-stimulant materials that have been used to promote plant growth. They promote antioxidant production in plants which reduces free radicals that may damage lipids, proteins and DNA within plant cells.
Thus, beta carotene is not only responsible for influencing maturity in plants, but is also an effective agent against oxidants that stunt their development.
The Economic Times