The Roles of Microbes in the Phytochemistry of Camellia sinensis (Tea)
Studies center on the chemical roles of microbes in the environment on the health, growth and sustainability of Camellia sinensis, as well as the health attributes of the tea produced from harvested and processed tips of the plant. The Gervay-Hague lab has identified novel secondary metabolites in tea. Preliminary evidence suggests that these compounds may be derived from plant-associated microbes. Microbes in the human gut may also benefit from the consumption of tea and in turn impact human immunology. To test these hypotheses, we are cloning California tea cultivars in a microbe-free environment in order to compare the chemical profile to the same clones grown in natural environments.
We expect to find unique microbial metabolites in each environment that can be correlated with plant and human health. Success in these endeavors has the potential to introduce new economic incentives for tea farmers. The world’s finest teas are processed from hand-picked shoots of the Camellia sinensis plant. After harvest, large quantities of cuttings are discarded. We have profiled the phytochemical composition of tea as a function of growth with the aim of identifying value added components not only in the tips, which are used for beverage consumption, but also the older growth. Rather than compost, these plant parts can become a resource of health promoting phytoceuticals making tea farming in California a resource for plant-derived pharmaceutical products.