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Researchers build new model of bio-exploration
Date:12/11/2007

medical or cosmetic potential.

The program began in the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Horticulturalists are drawn to the Stans, Lila said, because the region has a rich heritage as a center of fruit and nut production, and because many of the plants that survive there have desirable characteristics.

The Stans are among the most inland countries in the world, she said. They have the coldest winters, the hottest summers. They have mountain ranges. They have plants that are incredibly stressed because of the short growing season and the altitudes. These plants may not grow well, they may not look pretty, but theyre intense with bioactive compounds.

Kazakhstan is where the apple began. Uzbekistan is the home of Ajuga turkestanica, a plant that produces a steroid-like compound with metabolic-stimulating properties. (The Uzbekistan studies were suspended in 2006 because of political instability there.) Two species of Rhodiola, a plant with potential as an antidepressant, are found in this region, along with Artemisia leucodes, an aromatic plant related to tarragon that may be useful in treating inflammation.

The program also is developing techniques for analyzing the soup of chemical compounds in wild plants. By screening plants in the field, the researchers are able to identify biological traits that might not be detectable after harvesting the plants and bringing them into a lab. This screens to nature technique is a departure from the laboratory based, one-enzyme-at-a-time analysis typical of pharmaceutical research, which often fails to detect the therapeutic potential of plants traditionally used by indigenous peoples.

Twenty-five percent of human drugs are based on a template from a plant, Lila said. The pharmaceutical industry is now turning back to researchers in plants to try and have new discoveries, she said. Theyre also looking more and more outside of our borders to s
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  
Source:Eurekalert

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