THE chemical make-up of plans could hold the key to understanding cancer and heart disease, new research suggests.
Emma Lloyd, a chemistry lecturer at Leicester University, has established how Vitamin C in plants combines with other molecules to get rid of dangerous toxic oxygen, which causes cancer and heart disease in humans.
Dr Lloyd's study of plants has identified how the enzyme, ascorbate peroxidase, reacts with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to eliminate a reactive form of oxygen, hydrogen peroxide.
"Hydrogen peroxide is very damaging in humans," she said. "Peroxide is what people use to bleach their hair. It has been previously established that vitamin C in plants interacts with ascorbate peroxidase to fight hydrogen peroxide, but it has not been know exactly how they interact."
Her "spectroscopic" experiments carried out at the University of Leicester and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver have established exactly how and where the vitamin C "binds" on to the structure of the enzyme, and how they interact to expel the toxic oxygen.
Light is shone through a sample containing the enzyme, and the iron present in the molecule absorbs some of the light. The frequencies of light that are not absorbed are measured, and the results are modelled using a computer programme.
Dr Lloyd said: "This is important because it can help us to understand how vitamin C could be used to fight the harmful oxygen in humans. We don't really know why vitamin C is good for you and we are not sure what it actually does. But it works very clearly as an anti-oxidant mechanism in plants. It could be used as an anti-oxidant in humans."
She added: "Unlike humans, plants are able to make their own Vitamin C. This is why people are encouraged to eat a diet of fresh vegetables, so that humans can acquire the vitamin."