From an evolutionary perspective, the emergence of the sophisticated chemical scaffolds of flavonoid molecules represents a key step in the colonization of Earth's terrestrial environment by vascular plants nearly 500 million years ago. The subsequent evolution of flavonoids through recruitment and modification of ancestors involved in primary metabolism has allowed vascular plants to cope with pathogen invasion and damaging UV light. The functional properties of flavonoids as a unique combination of different classes of compounds vary significantly depending on the demands of their local real estate. Apart from geographical location, the composition of flavonoids is largely dependent on the plant species, their developmental stage, tissue type, subcellular localization, and key ecological influences of both biotic and abiotic origin. Molecular and metabolic cross-talk between flavonoid and other pathways as a result of the re-direction of intermediate molecules have been well investigated. This metabolic plasticity is a key factor in plant adaptive strength and is of paramount importance for early land plants adaptation to their local ecosystems. In human and animal health the biological and pharmacological activities of flavonoids have been investigated in great depth and have shown a wide range of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-cancer properties. In this paper we review the application of advanced gene technologies for targeted reprogramming of the flavonoid pathway in plants to understand its molecular functions and explore opportunities for major improvements in forage plants enhancing animal health and production.
Keywords: anthocyanins; evolution; flavonoids; metabolism; proanthocyanidins; transgenic.