Elicitation and Metabolomics Enhances Secondary Metabolites in Plants


Elicitation and Metabolomics Enhances Secondary Metabolites in Plants

Improving the nutritional and nutraceutical value of plants is greatly beneficial to human health. This can be attained in two major ways: Genetic manipulation and Modification of metabolism, by elicitors1. Genetic engineering of plants lays many controversies which made the use of elicitors more common. Moreover using elicitors is a cost effective strategy.

Both biotic and a-biotic forms of elicitors exist that stimulate metabolism and there have been many studies of their potential use in improving seed germination. Recently, elicitors have been intensively studied due to their ability to enhance phenolics and antioxidants in plants. Therefore researchers in a new study reviewed several types of elicitation studies that examine a wide range of food plants with important dietary roles2.

Elicitation is a process of increasing the production of secondary metabolites in plants to improve their survival and competitiveness3, while elicitors are components that stimulate any type of physiological response in plants. The active role of secondary metabolites in the adaptations that plants make in the face of environmental stress cannot be overemphasized and elicitors are known to trigger biochemical systems in plants which increase the production of secondary metabolites4.

Metabolomics can be defined as a study that entails all aspects of small molecules contained in a biological system and gives a precise measurement of the secondary metabolite production detected within a selected organism. Secondary metabolites are regarded as small bio-molecules that are non-essential for the life of the organism producing them5.

These metabolites provide several types of survival benefits to the organism producing them. For example, metabolites can act as a metabolic defence mechanism (e.g., plant flavonoids and alkaloid toxins), protecting plants against environmental stress, e.g., pigments and osmoprotectants.

Elicitation, whether biotic or abiotic, applied alone or in combination with other approaches, is a strategy which offers many potential benefits through enhancing phytochemicals in foods. When analyzed and quantified through plant metabolomics, the products and ingredients produced through elicitation could lead to the development of functional foods or nutraceuticals, potentially providing numerous benefits to improving basic nutrition as well as health benefits.

The study examined the economically affordable and natural elicitation process of plants as well as the importance of metabolomics in detecting and quantifying metabolites that are potentially beneficial for improving plant quality and human health. This will help researchers to uncover critical areas of plant metabolomics that researchers have not yet been able to explore.


Elicitation, phenolics, antioxidants, health, secondary metabolites, natural elicitation, basic nutrition, biotic or abiotic, physiological response, functional foods, nutraceuticals, economically affordable.


  1. Gawlik-Dziki, U., M. Swieca, D. Dziki and D. Sugier, 2013. Improvement of nutraceutical value of broccoli sprouts by natural elicitors. Polonorum Hortorum Cultus, 12: 129-140.
  2. Owolabi, I.O., Yupanqui, C.T. and Siripongvutikorn, S., 2018. Enhancing Secondary Metabolites (Emphasis on Phenolics and Antioxidants) in Plants through Elicitation and Metabolomics. J. Nutr., 17: 411-420.
  3. Patel, H. and R. Krishnamurthy, 2013. Elicitors in plant tissue culture. Pharmacogn. Phytochem., 2: 2278-4136.
  4. Zhao, J., L.C. Davis and R. Verpoorte, 2005. Elicitor signal transduction leading to production of plant secondary metabolites. Adv., 23: 283-333.
  5. Covington, B.C., J.A. McLean and B.O. Bachmann, 2017. Comparative mass spectrometry-based metabolomics strategies for the investigation of microbial secondary metabolites. Prod. Rep., 34: 6-24.