A chemical in genetically modified alfalfa may help prevent colon cancer, says an Iowa State University researcher.

Diane Birt, director of Iowa State’s Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition, is working with an alfalfa modified at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. It’s high in resveratrol glucoside, which helps protect plants from field rot during wet periods.

"Although the alfalfa was developed for agronomic reasons, data in the literature suggested that resveratrol … can prevent skin cancer," says Birt. "We decided to look at how it works in the diet to prevent colon cancer."

Working with mice, she found that the chemical prevents colon cancer at a very early stage. She plans to apply for a grant to fund further studies.

Birt is a leading researcher in the use of plant constituents to prevent chronic diseases and promote good health. She recently was honored by the American Association of Cancer Research for her work.