Extensive epidemiological evidence suggests that carotenoids (including vitamin A), ascorbate (vitamin C), tocols (including vitamin E), and glucosinolate breakdown products exert anticarcinogenic effects in a range of human tissues. Consumption of fresh and processed vegetables with enhanced levels of these phytochemicals could reduce human risk of cancer. The vitamins play a major role as antioxidants, offering protection against cancer by preventing or reversing oxidative damage to DNA and other cellular components. Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates (GSs), which, during mastication, are hydrolyzed by the enzyme myrosinase into bioactive breakdown products (BBPs), including sulforaphane. BBPs appear to induce synthesis of drug metabolism enzymes resulting in increased detoxification rates of carcinogens. This paper describes an interdisciplinary investigation designed to develop vegetable cultivars that offer chemoprotection from cancer at doses commensurate with a normal American diet. Initial work has focused on surveying sweet corn and Brassicae oleraceae germplasm for variation in vitamin and glucosinolate content in conjunction with in vitro and in vivo bioassays to determine which compounds and concentrations optimize chemoprotectant activity. Segregating populations from crosses between sweet corn and Brassica lines that vary in vitamin and GS concentrations will be assayed for chemical content and chemoprotectant activity, and genetically characterized using DNA marker technology to identify and map genes controlling these traits. This information will improve selection methodology in a breeding program aimed to develop brassica and sweet corn germplasm with enhanced cancer chemoprevention.
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