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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 2004 (2004), Issue 5, Pages 314-320
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/S1110724304406147
Review article

Nature's Swiss Army Knife: The Diverse Protective Roles of Anthocyanins in Leaves

School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand

Received 28 June 2004; Accepted 15 July 2004

Copyright © 2004 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Anthocyanins, the pigments responsible for spectacular displays of vermilion in the leaves of deciduous trees, have long been considered an extravagant waste of a plant's resources. Contemporary research, in contrast, has begun to show that the pigments can significantly influence the way a leaf responds to environmental stress. Anthocyanins have been implicated in tolerance to stressors as diverse as drought, UV-B, and heavy metals, as well as resistance to herbivores and pathogens. By absorbing high-energy quanta, anthocyanic cell vacuoles both protect chloroplasts from the photoinhibitory and photooxidative effects of strong light, and prevent the catabolism of photolabile defence compounds. Anthocyanins also mitigate photooxidative injury in leaves by efficiently scavenging free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Far from being a useless by-product of the flavonoid pathway, these red pigments may in some instances be critical for plant survival.