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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)


Phytochemical, biological and toxicological evaluation of hop (Humulus lupulus L.) from populations growing wild in Kosovo

PI: Avni Hajdari (avni.hajdari@uni-pr.edu), University of Prishtina
U.S. Partner: Cassandra Quave, Emory University
Project Dates: April 2021- March 2023

Project Overview:
 
Hop is an economically important plant species used in both the pharmaceutical and food industries. Hop raw material usually is provided from cultivars derived from hybridization, a process that decreases genetic variability. While the raw material from wild populations is not used by industry due to its high variability in chemical composition, wild hop germplasm and genetic diversity from under-utilized origins can serve as new reservoirs of genetic material, useful for improving crop production. Wild hops have the potential to reveal unique sources of novel bioactive compounds. Aiming to investigate the genetic and chemical potential of wild hops, this project will apply state-of-the-art techniques in phytochemistry and molecular biology in assessing the biological activities and toxicological effects of the hop. Through an innovative combination of complementary expertise by the Kosovan and U.S. partners, the team will assess genetic diversity and chemical variability of wild hop specimens that can serve in the future as a new gene pool for improvement of hop cultivars, as well as a potential source of novel chemical entities for future food and drug development. Furthermore, by using this interdisciplinary approach, the project team intends to break down barriers between fieldwork and lab work, as well as between disciplines. Through the enhanced partnership, capacity building, and linkage of the research to the economy, the project will contribute particularly to the development of sustainable uses of plant resources and the socioeconomic development of Kosovo in general. Thus, the overall goal of this study is to evaluate the genetic and chemical variability of the Kosovan wild hop by integrating tools from multiple disciplines to offer a unique opportunity to foster sustainable uses of natural resources.

Summary of Recent Events

As at the end of year one, March 2022, the PI reports that an intensive literature search was carried out to identify the potential population of the hops distribution in Kosovo. A list of the possible sites was compiled. In October 2021, they started extensive fieldwork to collect plant material in areas previously selected as potential sites for Hops collection. The plant material was collected in 21 populations. In each location, the plant materials were collected from 10 individuals. The collected plant materials included the plant material needed to prepare herbarium specimens and bulk plant material that will be used for phytochemical analyses, molecular analyses, and biological assays in the next steps of the project. Two PhD students trained to collect plant materials in the field. This was followed by two trainings, one training on DNA analyses, and the second training on non-volatile organic compounds. Their US partner, Professor Quave (Emory University) visited their lab to deliver the trainings. Two academic staff (Dr Avni Hajdari and MSc. Bledar Pulaj) and two PhD students (MSc. Blerta Salihu and MSc Mimoza Buzhala) of the University of Prishtina were trained to strengthen the skills to extract DNA from plant samples, amplify the isolated DNA by PCR, and analyze collected data. During this training, the methodology to study the genetic population of hop based on STR markers was established.

The project team had an online meeting and another in-person meeting with representatives of the USAID office in Prishtina, informing them of the implementation process of the project. Furthermore, a visit to the Peja Brewery (a private company) was organized, aiming to increase the University of Prishtina's cooperation with industry and link scientific research with economic development. In this meeting, the University of Prishtina was represented by Dr Avni Hajdari project coordinator and Dr Behxhet Mustafa, who were welcomed by the Birra Peja technologists Dr Arsim Elshani and Dr Kastriot Pehlivani, respectively. During this visit, in addition to the discussions for increasing cooperation between UP and the Birra Peja factory, the potential collaboration for chemical composition analyses and evaluating biological activity of the plant species Humulus lupulus L. (raw material for beer production) were discussed too. The UP's representatives were closely acquainted with the process of beer production in this factory and the types of chemical analysis needed to assess the quality of raw material of the H. lupulus, while Birra Peja's representatives introduced to the project objectives, as well as with the professional and research capacities that are building in the frame of this project.

In the next few months, the PI and his team will  work on conducting more trainings on DNA analyses of hops, Online consulting with their US partner will be an ongoing process to troubleshoot the problems that they can face during the chemical analyses of the non-volatile organic compounds by using the high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to photodiode-array detection (HPLC/PDA). Antioxidant activity of the plant extracts will be carried out using different antioxidant assay tests in the second part of the project implementation.




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