Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerche Agro-Ambientali
Increasing demand of healthy and nutritious food and call for environmentally sound and sustainable agricultural practices have drawn attention of policy makers, environmentalists, researchers, growers and, of course, consumers over the past decade. Therefore, a clear understanding of the relationships between farming systems and crop nutritional quality is very important for designing agricultural management strategies which enhance environmental quality and sustainability while improving the nutritional quality of crops.
Agricultural production systems may greatly differ in terms of amount and sources of fertilisers, crop protection strategies and crop rotation. In particular, organic systems are based on the use of organic amendments such as manure and cover crops and not allow the application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. As such, a relationship between food quality and farming systems could be expected.
The expansion of organic farming in Europe (and particularly in Italy) has brought about new paradigms for food quality perception, which in this context is regarded as a "holistic" issue. In this view, organic food would itself be a "living organism", possessing a global quality aspect ("vitality") that goes beyond the sum of single quality components. Vitality would be related to the ability of the organic food to promote human health.
This new concept requires the development of dedicated methods for food quality evaluation. Hence, since the 1930s several methods such as biocrystallization, circle chromatography, WALA chromatography and others were designed. Recent expansion of organic food production has given new impetus to research on these methods.
Biocrystallization for assessing global quality of conventional vs organic produce
In 2003 CIRAA has started research on quality aspects of produce (food and feed) coming from the MASCOT long-term experiment, where conventional and organic management systems are compared in a six-year arable crop rotation.
Produce of sugar beet, sunflower, common wheat, durum wheat and pigeon bean are analysed for standard chemical and microbiological quality parameters.
Additionally, studies on durum wheat produce vitality have been initiated by application of the biocrystallization method. The method variant set up at CIRAA includes water extraction of seed meal samples for 1 h and subsequent filtration on filter paper. The sample solution is mixed at different ratios with CuCl2 solution and water, to obtain different concentrations. The final solution is placed in 9 cm-diameter Petri dishes and incubated in a small sized (65 x 66 x 60 cm) crystallization chamber. As an integral part of the biocrystallization method, determination of suitable concentrations of the sample vs CuCl2 and water is performed, by using a "matrix" of concentrations on both conventional and organic durum wheat samples.
Preliminary results have shown that, when the ratio sample:CuCl2 was 1:4 or 4:1, an "absolute dominance" of the reagent or sample respectively, whereas, when the ratio was between 0.5:1 and 2:1.5, a "sample specific feature". Organic and conventional wheat produce seem to differ in terms of the amount of sample needed to obtain specific features.
CIRAA has contacts with the main European research institutes working on biocrystallization (University of Kassel, Germany; Louis Bolk Institute, The Netherlands; and BRAD, Denmark) and will soon join them in a European network for validation of the method.
Biocrystallization of conventional wheat sample
For further information, please contact:
Dr Paola Belloni, CIRAA E. Avanzi (firstname.lastname@example.org)