Scientists are about to make publicly available all the data they have so far on the genetic blueprint of medicinal plants and what beneficial properties are encoded by the genes identified.
The resources, to be released on Thursday, follow a $6 million initiative to study how plant genes contribute to producing various chemical compounds, some of which are medicinally important.
"Our major goal has been to capture the genetic blueprints of medicinal plants for the advancement of drug discovery and development," said Joe Chappell, professor of plant biochemistry in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and coordinator for the Medicinal Plant Consortium (MPC).
Project partner Dr Sarah O'Connor at the John Innes Centre will now work with her research group towards the first full genetic sequence of a medicinal plant and will also experiment with combining beneficial properties from different plants to create the first new-to-nature compounds derived from plants. A priority focus will be compounds with anticancer activity.
"Fewer and fewer new drugs have been successfully making it to the marketplace over the last 10 years, in large part because of a reliance on chemical synthesis for making new chemicals," said Chappell.
"Somehow in our fast-track lives, we forgot to take advantage of the lessons provided by Mother Nature. That is all changing now with the recognition that two-thirds of all currently prescribed drugs can be traced back to natural sources and the development of resources such as those in the MPC to facilitate new drug discovery activities."
Some well-known medicines have come from plants. The once ubiquitous foxglove gives us the cardiac muscle stimulant digoxin. The periwinkle plant offers a source for the widely used chemotherapy drugs vincristine and vinblastine. These and many other medicinal plants, often commonly found in household gardens and flower boxes, harbour a wealth
|Contact: Zoe Dunford|
Norwich BioScience Institutes