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Insect warning colors aid cancer and tropical disease drug discovery
Date:7/8/2008

est plantssuch as the idea that young leaves tend to be richer in defense chemicalscan significantly improve the efficiency and lower the cost of drug discovery, when compared with a random screening approach.

Although the idea that brightly colored insects could facilitate the search for medicinally active plants has been discussed for decades, the concept had never been rigorously tested. This new work at the Smithsonian provides another example of how ecology can contribute to the discovery of novel medicines. The study suggests that a quick screen for insects with warning coloration on tropical plants may increase the efficiency of the search for compounds active against cancer and tropical parasitic disease by four-fold. "It's very gratifying to see that it works in the field." said Capson. "I am hopeful that other investigators will follow our lead and test our theory that insects can lead us to plants with disease-fighting properties."

This work also demonstrates that protecting tropical forestsnot just the insects and plants, but at every levelhas the potential to provide immeasurable benefits to human health.


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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
703-487-3770, ext. 8216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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