Chemistry and Biochemistry of Agri-Food Molecules

A.Y. 2019/2020
Overall hours
BIO/10 CHIM/06
Learning objectives
This teaching aims to give the student an advanced knowledge in the chemical and biotechnological fields about molecules (mainly non-informational) of agri-food interest.

Part I (Chemistry), dedicated to the description of such molecules in terms of structure and chemical reactivity, will be followed by Part II (Biochemistry) which has the main objectives to highlight the structure / function relationships of these molecules either in organisms that produce them and in the end users and to stimulate the interest towards potential molecular targets of biotechnological interventions.

The laboratory practice included in this course have the aim to make familiar the main extraction techniques of some of the molecules faced in the teaching and some methods for the in vitro evaluation of their bioactivity.
Expected learning outcomes
The knowledge of the potential for intervention on these molecules, through chemical, enzymatic or process modifications aimed at improving their overall quality (chemical and physical stability, solubility, interactions and biological activity) and the basic ability to independently undertake studies and applications in the research contexts, and in the wide and interdisciplinary professional contexts.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
Course syllabus
The Course is organized in two Teaching Units:
- Unit 1: Chemistry of Agri-Food Molecules (3 CFU)
- Unit 2: Biochemistry of Agri-Food Molecules (5 CFU)

The description of each Teaching Unit is reported below.


Role of the secondary metabolites in the interactions between plants and environment. Allelopatic substances and elicitors. Repellent and attractors

The chemistry of flavours and fragrances: sweet, astringent, bitter and hot substances. Natural flavours. Flavor enhancers.
Terpenes and steroids. Linear and cyclic monoterpenes. Outlines on their biosynthesis.
Antioxidants and natural pigments: structure, chemico-physical properties and reactivity of polyphenols and carotenoids. Sulphur containing substances. Natural sources.
Antinutritional factors: saponins, alkaloids. Outlines on alkaloid biosynthesis.
Phototoxic agents: structure, natural sources and mechanism of action.

Laboratory tutorials.
Extraction, purification, chemical and biochemical activity assays of a natural substance discussed in the course. The biochemical activity might eventually be discussed in the second course module.


The meaning of molecular diversity. General aspect of metabolism. Typologies of enzyme reactions. General aspects of secondary metabolism.

Amino acids as precursors of secondary metabolites. Biosynthesis of amino acids (general aspects). Features of aromatic amino acids. Biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids. Bacteria-fungi and plants specificity of the prephenate branch. Biosynthesis of tyrosine from phenylalanine: phenylalanine hydroxylase (phenylketonuria). Shikimate pathway regulation in bacteria and plants (hints). EPSP synthase, the action site of glyphosate. Mechanism of the glyphosate activity. Key amino acid residues in the interaction glyphosate/EPSP synthase. Glyphosate-tolerant EPSP synthases. Glyphosate-resistant plants. Advantages and disadvantages in the use of glyphosate (hints).

Phenylpropane: basic structure of phenylpropanoids and tyrosine and phenylalanine. Phenylpropanoid pathway. Phenylalanine ammonia lyase and tyrosine ammonia lyase. Cinnamate hydroxylase. The typical reactions of phenylpropanoid biosynthesis. Acetyl-CoA, precursor of the polyketide moiety of flavonoids. Acetyl-CoA carboxylase. Chalcone synthase. From chalcone to the other flavonoids (hints). The other type-III polyketide synthases. The transcriptional regulation and the promoter of the chalcone synthase gene. Natural roles of flavonoids: vicenin-2; involvement in the nodulation process; the anthocyans and the colours.

Metabolic precursors of terpenoids. Mevalonate pathway. Acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase and HMG-CoA synthase: cholesterogenic and ketogenic forms. HMG-CoA reductase: statins sensitivity. The methylerythritol phosphate pathway. The DXP reductoisomerase: the fosmidomycin target. Statins and fosmidomycin in the study of the metabolic source of terpenoids. Subcellular localization and taxonomy specificity of MVA and MEP pathways. The elongation phase of terpenoid biosynthesis: prenyltransferases and their subcellular localization; primary and secondary refinement (hints).

Taxol (paclitaxel): discovering, source, biosynthesis (hints), subcellular localization, cytotoxicity, physiological role, effect of tubulin structure on cytotoxicity. Taxol production and its improvement perspectives. Strategies of metabolic engineering. Holistic approach of metabolic engineering: the case of catharanthine. Pros and cons in the use of plant cell coltures for the production of molecules of interest. Plant cell coltures for the production of complex recombinant proteins. The case of glucocerebrosidase and the Gaucher illness. Other cell systems for metabolite production: bioreactors and biofuels (hints). The case of biohydrogen (dark fermentation, photofermentation). Potential biotechnological use of lignocellulosic wastes (hints).

Vitamin K, role and biosynthetic origin. The phylloquinone role in the plant. The menaquinone role in bacteria. Functional distinction between ubiquinone and menaquinones. Vitamin D (cholecalciferol, ergocalciferol, calcitriol, ercalcitriol). Metabolic source of cholecalciferol. Vitamin A (retinol and aldehyde and acid derivatives). Retinal role in the vision system (rhodopsin and photopsins). Biosynthetic source of retinal and beta-carotene. Vitamin A deficit. Food fortification and biofortification. Golden Rice. Golden Rice DNA constructs (GR1 and GR2 prototypes).

Reactive oxygen and other radical species biologically significant. Biological sources of radicals. Mechanism and ROS reactivity. Oxidative damages in the cell. Oxidative stress defence mechanisms. Glutathione and glutathione peroxidase. Reduced glutathione regeneration: glutathione reductase. Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase and the relation with favism and malaria. Isouramil and divicine induced-redox-cycle. Thiolic functional homologues of glutathione. Meaning and evaluation of antioxidant power in biological/experimental and food systems. Vitamin E (tococromanols). Biosynthetic source of tocopherols. Chloroplasts tocopherols (plastoglobules). Antioxidant activity of tocopherols. Antioxidant triad. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and redox activity. Biosynthetic source of ascorbic acid (animals, plants). Ascorbic acid role in plants and animals. Ascorbic acid as co-factor of alpha-chetoglutarate-dependent hydroxylases. The ascorbic acid, the collagen and the scurvy. Essential fatty acids.

Storage seed tissues in dicots and monocots and its molecular macro composition. Osborne's protein fractionation. 2S albumins. 7S and 11S globulins. Prolamines: types and structures. Maize prolamines: zeins. Subcellular protein sorting pathways. Prolamines and protein bodies. Cupin and prolamine protein superfamilies. Functional-technological properties of wheat gluten. Gluten proteins: glutenins and gliadins. Electrophoretic analysis of gliadins. Main chemical and enzyme flour-additives and mechanism of action. Food and biotechnological use of transglutaminase. Flour allergens (hints). General and molecular aspects of celiac sprue. Applications to reduce celiac pathogenesis (chemical and enzyme modifications of gluten, "glutenases", etc.).

Plant "toxic" proteins. Ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs). The N-glycosidase activity of RIPs. The ricin cytotoxicity mechanism. Antiviral RIP activity. General structure of antibodies. The immunotoxins. Biofilm and its economic-social impact. Beneficial biofilms. Biofilm structure and genesis and the role of quorum-sensing molecules. Antibiofilm molecules.

The following topics will be deepened or refreshed: transamination reactions; recombinant expression of proteins (hints); protein mutagenesis (hints); general canonical procedure to produce GMO plants (hints); the Double Strand Breaks and genome editing through CRISPR/Cas9 system (hints); GS/GOGAT system; cytochrome P450 superfamily; hints on general structure of promoters, biotechnological importance of promoters and promoter analysis; functional omics (metabolomics); immunolabeling; photo-affinity labeling; general procedure for plant cell colture (hints); protein transmembrane domains through primary structure analysis; molecular docking (hints); epitopes mapping (hints); protein allergen identification approach.

Laboratory practices: enzyme reaction inhibition; the IC50 value meaning and its extrapolation from dose-response plots; the colorimetric assay for phosphatase; the phosphatases and the intestinal alkaline phosphatase; organization of a laboratory report.
Prerequisites for admission
Principles of Organic Chemistry.
Principles of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Teaching methods
Frontal lectures and laboratory practices.
Teaching Resources
The teaching material will be suggested and/or will be available on the ARIEL sites of the course ( ; ).
Assessment methods and Criteria
The examination will be composed of a written part ("Chemistry of Agri-Food molecules") and an oral part ("Biochemistry of Agri-Food molecules").

The written part consists in three questions: a) on the structural analysis of several natural organic substances and discussion of their possible biosynthetic pathway; b) one general question over specific topics discussed during the course; c) a detailed biosynthesis, with mechanisms of reaction, of a particular secondary metabolite, to be chosen over those cited in the unit program.

In the interview, the report of laboratory practices, a presentation of an in-depth topic of choice, and the answer to 1-2 questions about the program of the unit will be evaluated.

The modalities of the single parts of the examination will be furtherly detailed during the lessons by the teachers and will be described in the ARIEL sites of the course ( ; ).

The final score will be expressed in thirtieths, and will be calculated weighting (on the basis of the CFU) the score of the single parts of the examination.
Biochemistry of Agri-Food Molecules
BIO/10 - BIOCHEMISTRY - University credits: 0
CHIM/06 - ORGANIC CHEMISTRY - University credits: 0
Single bench laboratory practical: 8 hours
Lessons: 36 hours
Professor: Forlani Fabio
Chemistry of Agri-Food Molecules
BIO/10 - BIOCHEMISTRY - University credits: 0
CHIM/06 - ORGANIC CHEMISTRY - University credits: 0
Single bench laboratory practical: 8 hours
Lessons: 20 hours
Professor: Ragg Enzio Maria
By appointment (request by email)
DeFENS - Sezione di Scienze Chimiche e Biomolecolari (ex DISMA; bldg 21040 Facoltà di Scienze Agrarie e Alimentari)