Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Cecilia do Nascimento Nunes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandy Westerheide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brant Burkhardt, Ph.D.


aronia, bioactive compounds, blackcurrant, pesticides, pomegranate


Strawberries can be considered a functional food because their consumption has been associated with several health benefits. They are important sources of bioactive compounds, such as vitamins and polyphenolic compounds, with recognized antioxidant capacity (AOC). However, strawberry overall quality and bioactive content are greatly affected by environmental conditions during pre- and post-harvest and, little is known about the stability of its bioactive compounds, specifically ascorbic acid (AA) and polyphenolics compounds. Furthermore, additional research that addresses the impact of polyphenolic compounds on in vitro and in vivo models is needed to understand the mechanisms behind their potential health benefits. Therefore, the objectives of the work presented in this thesis were to: 1) evaluate the impact of different disease control treatments on strawberry bioactive compounds and AOC; 2) understand the relationship between bioactive compounds and AOC in strawberries and fruit juices; 3) investigate the origin of AOC in strawberries by identifying their major polyphenolic compounds and, 4) explore the effects of polyphenol-rich fruits and fruit juices on the proliferation of cancer cells and lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans.

Conscientious consumers are aware of the health benefits of substantial fruit and vegetable consumption but are also concerned about the amount of pesticide residues that can be found in conventionally grown produce, with pesticide-free produce (i.e., organic) becoming more popular. However, the market price for organic strawberries can be more than twice that of conventionally grown fruit which discourages the average American from purchasing this fruit on a regular basis. Therefore, in the first study presented in this thesis, we hypothesized that reducing pesticide usage would provide the consumer with a “sustainable strawberry” that would have better or similar quality at a lower cost than organic fruit while it would also reduce environmental impact and risk to pesticide applicators. Results from this study showed that strawberries from a reduced fungicide treatment, had better or similar bioactive content and AOC than fruit from the conventional disease control treatment. After cold storage, strawberries from the reduced or conventional disease control treatments showed comparable amounts of bioactive compounds and AOC. These results indicate that growing strawberries with a reduced number of fungicide applications can be an alternative to the conventional disease control or organic practices as it may reduce residual fungicides in the fruit, decrease production costs while still retaining important bioactive compounds.

In order to understand the relationship between bioactive compounds and AOC in strawberries and fruit juices, 56 different types of commercial beverages were chosen for the second study presented in this thesis. Overall, results showed that the higher the total phenolic contents (TPC) in the beverage the higher their AOC. Amongst all beverages studied, aronia, blackcurrant, and pomegranate juices contained the highest amount of TPC and AOC. Furthermore, after opening the bottles, these juices were maintained for 14 days at 4 °C, to test the stability of their TPC which was in general relatively stable throughout storage.

Further investigation on individual polyphenolic compounds and their possible contribution to the overall AOC of fruits and fruit juices, led to a third study. Overall, results showed that the AOC of major individual polyphenolic compounds found in strawberries (i.e., pelargonidin, cyanidin, ellagic acid, quercetin, kaempferol, catechin, epicatechin, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid) was significantly higher than that of mixtures of the same compounds. In addition, the AOC of strawberries correlated with its major bioactive compounds (i.e., polyphenolic compounds and ascorbic acid) in a form of a synthetic bioactive strawberry model (“Powerberry”) composed of major strawberry polyphenolic compounds, vitamin C, fructose and glucose in the same ratios found in a real strawberry. These results suggest that even though strawberries contain many different polyphenolic compounds and vitamins, their AOC might only depend on few compounds that are found in significant quantities in the fruit.

Finally, using cell and worm models we were able to demonstrate that conventional and organic strawberry, raspberry and blueberry fruits, and aronia, blackcurrant and pomegranate juices successfully inhibited the proliferation of HeLa cervical cancer cell lines. In addition, when introduced in low doses (0.75 mg ml-1 or lower) to the C. elegans diet, aronia, blackcurrant and pomegranate juices promoted longevity. Overall, results suggest that using whole fruit or fruit juices might constitute an alternative of treating cancer cells in vivo and that polyphenolic compounds contained in fruits and fruit juices displayed significant bioactivity in a worm model.