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Mining Health Treasures from Soybeans

By Ben Hardin
May 3, 1999

Agricultural Research Service scientists are combing through leftovers from soybean oil and protein extraction, searching for components that might help cancer-free people stay that way.

The idea is to add DNA-friendly compounds--termed chemoprotectants--to food additives and pharmaceuticals. Some natural and synthetic chemicals cause DNA disruptions that sometimes result in malignancies, but chemoprotectants help protect against irreversible cell damage.

Soybeans and many other foods are already known to contain substances termed antioxidants that can help prevent cell mutations. Some of these antioxidative soy extracts, called isoflavones, are being marketed as food additives. But ARS scientists at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., and their University of Illinois colleagues at Champaign are prospecting for new chemoprotectants.

The soy leftovers comprise a gooey molasses that has been used as livestock feed. Chemoprotectants isolated from these leftovers could become, pound for pound, more valuable than the main processed soy products. A light brown powder called phytochemical concentrate (PCC), isolated from the molasses, contains a mixture of these potent materials.

In the research, university scientists expose cell cultures of Chinese hamster lungs and ovaries to PCC components prepared by the ARS scientists. Then they challenge the cells with a chemical known to induce tumors. Later, they assess DNA breakage in the cells and identify the most protective PCCs.

In preliminary studies, mice fed certain PCC components seem to be protected from some forms of cell damage. These components, not yet detailed in scientific literature, include molecules that are much more antimutagenic than flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants found in many foods.

The research, supported in part by the United Soybean Board, may serve as a model for research on other foods.

An article about the research appears in the May issue of Agricultural Research magazine and online at:


Scientific contact: Mark A. Berhow and Steven F. Vaughn, ARS, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., phone (309) 681-6595, fax (309) 681-6693, (Berhow) and (Vaughn).