Ergothioneine (ERGO) is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory amino acid that is produced in nature mainly by non-yeast fungi, cyanobacteria, and mycobacteria. Mounting evidence suggests that ERGO can be considered a longevity vitamin that can mitigate chronic diseases of aging and thereby increase life expectancy. Humans must obtain ERGO from their diet, and it is therefore important to know which foods contain it. Although ERGO is not produced by plants it is found in plant products such as grain, apparently because detrital or symbiotic soil fungi pass on ERGO to plants through their roots. Besides differences between plant species in their ability to accumulate ERGO, how they are managed might also affect its concentration. Soil tillage has been shown to reduce soil fungal biomass, and therefore ERGO contents in maize, soybeans, and oats grown in soil managed with annual moldboard plowing (most intensive), chisel/disking (less intensive), or no-tillage (least intensive) in crop rotation were compared. ERGO concentrations declined in all three crops as tillage intensity increased, with reductions from no till to moldboard plow of approximately 30% in all three crops. Because crop yield was also negatively impacted by intensive tillage, ERGO yield per hectare was reduced even more due to increasing tillage intensity. This study is one of the first to show that soil health improving practices that minimize soil disturbance can directly enhance a key dietary factor associated with long-term human health.
Beelman, R. B., Richie, J. P., Phillips, A. T., Kalaras, M. D., Sun, D., & Duiker, S. W. (2021). Soil Disturbance Impact on Crop Ergothioneine Content Connects Soil and Human Health. Agronomy, 11(11), 2278.