XtremeBio aims to determine the chemical and nutritional profile, and antioxidant, antitumoral and neuroprotective properties of halophytes from the Algarve. Halophytes form a group of specialized plants that develop normally in saline soils in the vicinity of marine environments. They have evolved several adaptations in response to the osmotic and ionic challenges of saline environments, inclunding biochemical mechanisms that facilitate retention and/or acquisition of water, protect chloroplast function and maintain ion homeostasis. These adaptations result from the synthesis of osmolytes, specific proteins and antioxidant molecules, which are highly bioactive. Many medicinally important plants belong to this group, namely lemon grass and German chamomile.
Although scientific and commercial interest has focused on marine natural products yielding several thousand novel molecules, semiterrestrial ecosystems with marine influence (e.g. salt marshes) have, so far, not been subjected to a systematic phytochemical screening. Moreover, the introduction of cash crops with high salt tolerance, such as halophytes, is considered as an approach for the sustained management of saline areas.
These crops can be used as animal feed (e.g. Atriplex sp.) or human food (e.g. Salicornia sp.). Soil salinization can result in desertification and represents a serious threat to the socio-economic situation worldwide. Mediterranean areas such as Portugal, central and southeast Spain, central and southern Italy, southern France and a large part of Greece are under a high desertification risk.