This work was aimed at investigating the effects of rate and timing of nitrogen fertilization applied to a maternal wheat crop on phytochemical content and antioxidant activity of edible sprouts and wheatgrass obtained from offspring grains. We hypothesized that imbalance in N nutrition experienced by the mother plants translates into transgenerational responses on seedlings obtained from the offspring seeds. To this purpose, we sprouted grains of two bread wheat cultivars (Bologna and Bora) grown in the field under four N fertilization schedules: constantly well N fed with a total of 300 kg N ha-1; N fed only very early, i.e., one month after sowing, with 60 kg N ha-1; N fed only late, i.e., at initial shoot elongation, with 120 kg N ha-1; and unfertilized control. We measured percent germination, seedling growth, vegetation indices (by reflectance spectroscopy), the phytochemical content (total phenols, phenolic acids, carotenoids, chlorophylls), and the antioxidant activity (by gold nanoparticles photometric assay) of extracts in sprout and wheatgrass obtained from the harvested seeds. Our main finding is that grains obtained from crops subjected to late N deficiency produced wheatgrass with much higher phenolic content (as compared to the other N treatments), and this was observed in both cultivars. Thus, we conclude that late N deficiency is a stressing condition which elicits the production of phenols. This may help counterbalance the loss of income related to lower grain yield in crops subjected to such an imbalance in N nutrition.
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