Bengaluru scientists crack Moringa mystery

Superfood indeed

Ever wondered why Moringa (drumstick) was popular in grandmother’s recipes across India? Bengaluru scientists now have an answer.

Researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) uncovered an elaborate biochemical factory inside the household plant, leading to the production of five drug-like molecules and three vitamins (vitamin A, C, E).

“The leaves, pods and flowers of the plant are rich in these molecules that can help in lipid metabolism, reducing diabetes as well as cardio, neuro-protective and anti-cancer properties. The plants are also rich in minerals,” team leader R Sowdhamini, a computational biologist at the NCBS, told DH.

Commonly used in sambar, aviyal (Kerala) and poriyal (Tamil Nadu) in south India, drumsticks now attract global attention as a superfood because of its medicinal properties.

The work by NCBS scientists in collaboration with the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Bengaluru, provides a scientific foundation to the fame.

One of the key molecules in the drumstick plant is Moringine that helps in lipid metabolism (needed for weight loss), checking diabetes and improving good hormonal balance. Other protective elements of Moringa Oleifera are Quercetin (effective in metabolic disorders); Kaempferol (anti-cancer agent) besides Ursolic acid and Oleanolic acid that are known to act as anti-fertility and anti-cancer agents.

The study shows that Moringa leaves contain 30 times more iron and 100 times more calcium than spinach.

“Iron, zinc and magnesium transporters were found to be highly abundant in the roots and stem parts of this tree,” said Naseer Pasha, first author of the study, published in the April 29 issue of the journal Genomics.

The tree of sub-Himalayan origin requires very little attention and can survive in arid regions.

“Every part of the tree has medicinal value, which is well documented in Ayurveda. What was lacking was a clear answer on the quantification of these molecules in different parts of the trees and an understanding of the protein chain reaction that leads to creation of such molecules,” Sowdhamini said.

The wonder properties of the tree came out after the Bengaluru team deciphered the behaviour of the RNA — DNA’s partner inside the body that decides how cells will act in accordance with the code written in the DNA.

They studied the RNA from five different tissues (root, stem, flower, seed and leaf) of the miraculous tree, whose samples were collected from the Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra campus of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru. A total of 36 candidate genes were tracked from all five tissues.

“Uncovering the details of the enzymes that lend Moringa its medicinal values demonstrates the power of genomics. Together with the commercial applications, such as the use of Moringa leaves in water purification and oleic acid in oil extracts, this study could pave the way for this plant in the field of biotechnology,” said Sowdhamini.

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