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Phytonutrient Forum Aims at New Research Partnerships

By Jill Lee and Judy McBride
February 2, 1998

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2--Scientists from the medical, nutritional and agricultural arenas will have opportunities to build new research partnerships at a conference on "Food, Phytonutrients and Health" here March 9-11.

The Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific agency, has invited more than 250 industry, government and university scientists to attend the conference, to be held in the USDA's Jamie L. Whitten Building in Washington and workshops in nearby College Park, Md.

Phytonutrients are natural plant compounds of increasing interest for their potential medical or nutritional benefits. Plants rich in phytonutrients range from the well-known carrots and broccoli--with antioxidants that help fight disease--to the trendy St. Johns wort believed by some to alleviate depression. ARS recently established a new Phytonutrients Laboratory at its Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center.

"Providing science-based benefits of phytonutrients to people will require strong new research partnerships among scientists in different fields and from different sectors-- industry, academia and government," said ARS administrator Floyd Horn.

For example, medical researchers have linked phytoestrogens in soybeans with reduced discomfort during menopause. Agronomists who know how to enhance the phytoestrogen content of soybeans could help turn the medical findings into real-life benefits for women seeking an alternative to conventional estrogen therapy.

Speakers will outline the status of phytonutrient research and conduct workshops on the biological effects of plant compounds, plant breeding and medicinal plants. The workshops are designed to generate new research partnerships and clarify research needs.

Scientific contact: Carla Fjeld, ARS National Program Leader for Human Nutrition, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6216.

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