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Mark A Berhow

Research Chemist
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Phone: (309) 681-6347
Fax: (309) 681-6685
Room 3317
USDA ARS NCAUR
1815 N University St
Peoria, IL 61604

Biography and Research

Mark Berhow has worked as research chemist at ARS in Peoria since 1994 and with ARS since 1983. Mark received a B.Sc. in life sciences from the University of Portland, Oregon, in 1977. He received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington in 1984. His research interests include the examination of the processes involved in the biosynthesis and accumulation of biologically active plant secondary metabolites or “phytochemicals.” In Peoria, he has continued his work on analytical methods for the identification and quantification of secondary metabolites in plants, which can be used as biologically active chemicals for pest control, food additives, or pharmacological uses. The project team he leads specializes in the identification, isolation, and analysis of phytochemicals from plants and plant products, such as the isoflavones and saponins from soy and the glucosinolates from the crucifer species, and assessing their functional activity in biological systems.

The overall goal of our current project plan is to convert selected low-value agricultural feedstocks into value-added bio-products based upon their physiochemical or chemical properties.  The specific bio-products being presented are: (a) engineered manufactured wood for indoor uses; (b) biochar as an adaptive for plant growth media; (c) slow-release bio-pesticides; (d) phytochemical (e.g. plant natural essences) based functional food and feed ingredients; and (e) phytochemical based pest control agents.  In addition, it is proposed to develop convenient methods for phytochemical discovery and high-throughput methods for measuring amounts of known chemicals present in plant tissues.  One notable aspect of this work is that the combination of feedstock and bioproduct were selected to exploit specific properties of each.  

Development of new functional foods with defined health properties is a long and complex process. Our project is focused on the identification of plant natural products in low value plant materials, such as agricultural harvesting and processing by-products. These compounds can be ones with already characterized health effects, or they may not have been fully characterized as yet. Once identified and quantitated, we will identify university and industrial collaborators and work with them to better characterize the biological activates of these compounds in bioassays and animal studies by providing them with pure compounds or characterized materials. For material containing natural products with known health efficacies, we will work with other projects in the Functional Foods Research unit, other ARS research projects, University collaborators, and stakeholders to provide them with characterized materials and purified compounds for them to develop and characterize new functional food products. For example, purified pea protein is in demand as a protein source that is glutin free. Preparing these proteins results in the production of another fraction that is high in fiber and several phytochemicals. This co-product will be assessed as an ingredient for new high fiber products such as snack bars and chips and enhanced yogurt products, among other items. We will be providing the phytochemical analysis of the phenolics and triterpenoids found in whole peas in these products. Some of these compounds already have been shown to slow or prevent the development of a number of chronic diseases. Only through a strong collaborative effort centered on the interactions within the FFR unit will new products emerge.