Searching for Active Ingredients in Edible
Gallant KL Chan1,2*, Kevin QY Wu1,2, Aster HY Fung2, Karmen KM Poon2, Caroline Y Wang2, Elizaveta Gridneva2, Rena RH Huang1, Sisley YZ Fung1,2, YT Xia1,2, Winnie WH Hu1, Zack CF Wong1, 2 and Karl WK Tsim1,2
1Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Edible and Medicinal Bioresources, Shenzhen Research Institute, China
2Division of Life Science and Center for Chinese Medicine, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China
Submission: April 03, 2018; Published: May 14, 2018
*Corresponding author: Gallant KL Chan, Division of Life Science and Center for Chinese Medicine, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong, China, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to cite this article: Gallant KL C, Kevin QY W, Aster HY F, Karmen KM P, Caroline Y W,et.al. Searching for Active Ingredients in Edible Bird’s Nest.
J Complement Med Alt Healthcare .2018; 6(2): 555683. DOI: 10.19080/JCMAH.2018.06.555683
Edible bird’s nest (EBN; cubilose) is an ancient Chinese delicacy, made of the salivary secretion of specific swiftlets (such as Aerodramusfuciphagus), which has been consumed for several hundred years. Until now, EBN is still a popular luxurious food supplement for women in oriental regions. According to traditional Chinese medicinal descriptions, EBN can promote the “Qi”, corresponding to the lung/ respiratory functions; and hence which improves the healthiness of skin. However, the underlying mechanism of this medicinal theory is still largely unknown. In this review, we provided a comprehensive overview for chemical composition and biological properties of EBN.
Edible bird’s nest (EBN; cubilose), a well-known traditional food, used in Asia, has various nutritious and/or medicinal properties, e.g. anti-inflammatory , anti-influenza [2,3], skin regeneration and bone strengthening . EBN is the salivary secretion from the species of swiftlets, i.e. Aerodramusfuciphagus and Aerodramus maximus . By color, EBNs can be divided into white, yellow and red. White EBN accounts for over 90% of EBN supply. The formation of Yellow and Red EBN are proposed to be an oxidized products of White EBN. In the market, Red EBN is most expensive than others. According to the historical record in AD 1700 (Qing dynasty in China), e.g. “Ben Cao Feng Yuan” and “Ben Cao Gang Mu Shi Yi”, Red EBN possesses additional function of replenish blood, as compared to that of White EBN. Due to the restricted supply in the market, EBN has a high price with a range from US$ 1,000 - 15,000 per kilogram in the food market.
EBN consists of 40 - 60% of protein, 20 - 30 % carbohydrate, 10 - 15% water and trace amount and minerals. Sialic acid, with its major form as N-acetylneuraminic acid (NANA), comprises 9-12% of the dried wright in the nest . There are two forms of NANA present in EBN: they are either loosely attached on the surface of EBN, namely free form of NANA, or covalently bound to glycan molecules and linked to protein mass, namely conjugated form of NANA. Due to the abundance of N-linked glycans present on EBN , the major form of NANA belonged to conjugated form, and thus in general only a trace amount of free NANA was detected on EBN. The amount of free form of NANA has been
proposed to be a quality control marker for authentication and categorization of EBN in different grading . At that period of time, microscopic  and genetic  methods were two commonly used strategies for EBN authentication. However, none of those methods were able to differentiate different grading of EBN.
NANA was proposed to be a major component for anti- influenza function of EBN . Moreover, NANA could induce the proliferation of cultured Caco-2 cells . From our previous study, both mushroom and human tyrosinase inhibition assay were applied to determine the skin whitening function of different EBN. White and Red EBN showed obvious inhibition effect on tyrosinase activity, while the inhibition effect of Grass EBN is not significant. No inhibition effects on tyrosinase activity for all adulterants of EBN. Moreover, NANA was able to inhibit both mushroom and human tyrosinase activities in dose-dependent manner, and which showed a mixed type of inhibition on the enzyme. This activity could explain the skin whitening effect of EBN .
Protein comprised the largest part of EBN, over half of the nest made of protein. However, the proteomics study was hindered by several limitations. The heavily glycosylated chains of peptide polymer in EBN were very difficult to be hydrolyzed, and thus the rooms for enzymatic reactions were always limited. The first report of protein on EBN, published in 1975 by a French group, indicated that the protein of EBN was actually glycoprotein . Another report in 1977 illustrated the isolation of an enzyme - neuraminidase from EBN, However, the origin of this enzyme
came from a microbe but not from swiftlet . The next report
came up after 10 years, a mitogenic factor was reported in EBN,
which expressed epithelial growth factor (EGF)-like activity via
functional study approach . Apart from a source of allergic
protein reported in 2000 [17,18], no significant progress
had been achieved for the following 25 years. Since 2012, an
increasing number of reports about the proteomic study of EBN
have been published [19,20]. Possibly, thanks to the invention and
widely application of mass spectrometry (e.g. Maldi-TOF,ESI LC/
MS/MS Q-TOF, Ion-trap, CHIPS etc.), which makes detail analysis
of protein characterization became possible. Followed by the
extension in knowledge of protein in EBN, new authentication
methods targeting protein identities of EBN were developed as
well [21,22]. The EBN authentication based on the characterized
peptides via the application of peptide HPLC finger printing
 and monoclonal antibodies  have been reported. The
identified proteins so fat in EBN are summarized in Table 1.
In 2013, we had also examined the total anti-oxidation
capacity of the EBN by Cu2+ reduction method, quantified by
Trolox standards. The protein of EBN was found to be responsible
for the anti-oxidation function, which eventually led to antiageing
function. Recently, a Malaysian group reported the finding
of two novel peptide from EBN with anti-oxidation function .
Nevertheless, the mechanism for such peptide to execute its
function on anti-ageing was still a mystery.
The discovery of nitrite contamination in 2011, reported by
Chinese authority in Zhejiang province, aroused public concern
on the safety of EBN consumption. The highest amount of nitrite
on EBN (Red blood EBN) could reached 11,000ppm and resulted
in a ban on importing EBN immediately. Nitrite is widely used as a
preservative, anti-microbial agent, color fixative and flavoring in
cured meats and other food products. Nearly all processed meats
contain nitrite; however, the usage is under a strict regulation.
Nitrite is toxic because of the risk of methemoglobinemia .
Patients suffered from methemoglobinemial find difficulty in
breathing. Syndromes of nitrite poisoning could be chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease  and brain tumors in new
born from the contaminated pregnant woman .
A market survey of nitrite content in EBN, supported by
Hong Kong Merchant Association of Chinese Medicine, was held
immediately after the incident. The median nitrite content of
different types of EBN was measured, which ranged from 100-
600ppm. Furthermore, under standard processing method, up
to 98% of nitrite could be removed from EBN, and subsequently
nitrite was not detected in stewed EBN. On the other hand, the
origin of nitrite contamination was still a mystery. To search the
source of nitrite, droppings from swiftlets and water samples
were collected from the production sites of EBN in Malaysia and
Indonesia, and which contained a high amount of nitrate, instead
of nitrite. In parallel, the protein extract of EBN was subjected to
proteomics analysis. A microbial nitrate reductase was identified
by mass spectroscopy, which converted nitrate to nitrite in EBN.
A specific inhibitor of nitrate reductase, when added in the
developing EBN, successfully abolished the nitrate reduction
activity found in EBN, which subsequently reduced the final
content of nitrite in EBN. This phenomenon was successfully
proven by the field study . Thus, the nitrite on EBN could be a
result of the contaminating and nitrate and the microbial nitrate
reductase from the environment (Figure 1) .
Although the illustration of safe consumption method for
EBN, the industry still suffers from dramatic economic loss
until 2014. The global market value of EBN was evaporated by
thirty percent after the nitrite incident in 2011, but which was
recovered to its original value after 2016 . We are quite
certain that what we achieved and described above was just a
beginning. More innovative applications of using EBN materials
will become notable in the near future.
This study was supported by Hong Kong RGC Themebased
Research Scheme (T13-607/12R), Innovation
Technology Fund (UIM/288, UIM/302, UIM/340, UIT/137,
ITS/022/16FP), TUYF15SC01, Shenzhen Science and Technology
Committee Research Grant (JCYJ 20160229205726699, JCYJ
20160229205812004, JCYJ 20160229210027564, CKFW
2016082916015476, JCYJ 20170413173747440, ZDSYS 201
707281432317 and 20170326). Z.W. received a scholarship from