Scientists at Purdue University and eight other institutions have developed new
resources poised to unlock another door in the hidden garden of medicinally
important compounds found in plants.
resources were developed by the Medicinal Plant Consortium, led by the
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. They
grew out of a $6 million initiative from the National Institutes of Health to
study how the genes of plants contribute to production of various chemical
compounds, some of which are medicinally important.
professor of horticulture and landscape architecture Natalia Dudareva was part
of the research team. Dudareva’s work included research on rosemary, a fragrant
shrub often used in perfumes and cooking that produces a variety of pharmacologically
grant allowed for the work of scientists from a number of different
universities, with many different areas of expertise,” Dudareva says.
“We hope the discovery of plant genes leads to new and more effective
includes participants from Purdue, Michigan State University, Iowa State University, the University of Mississippi, Texas A&M
University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Kentucky, and
the John Innes Institute in Norwich, England. The researchers represent
a broad spectrum of expertise including plant biology and systematics,
analytical chemistry, genetics and molecular biology, and drug development from
well-known medicines have come from plants. The foxglove plant gives us the
cardiac muscle stimulant digoxin, and 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, represent cornucopias of compounds ripe for discovering and developing
diverse medicinal applications.
two-year project, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,
researchers from two consortia set out to develop a collection of data that
would aid in understanding how plants make chemicals, a process called
biosynthesis. This knowledge ultimately could make it possible to engineer
plants to produce larger quantities of medicinally useful compounds as well as
different versions with other therapeutic potential.
the resources, the researchers studied the genes and chemical composition of 14
plants known for their medicinal properties or compounds with biological
activity. These included plants such as foxglove, ginseng and periwinkle.
Altogether, these efforts are now providing a rich toolbox for researchers to
discover the means for how nature’s chemical diversity is created, empowering
efforts to uncover new drug candidates and increase the efficacy of existing
are compounds in rosemary that have been a part of traditional medicine for a
long time, although we still don’t understand how the plant biosynthesizes
them,” Dudareva says.
The work of
the Medicinal Plant Consortium included obtaining materials for all of the
medicinal plants used in this study. The group then determined the plants’
chemical profiles and obtained their genetic blueprints to study how genes
control the various chemical compositions.
“This work offers a valuable
data resource for understanding the genes, enzymes and complex processes
responsible for the biosynthesis of important plant-derived drugs,” says
Warren Jones, who manages this and other research grants in biotechnology at
NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, through which the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were provided. “The
collaborative effort should greatly contribute to our ability to understand and
exploit the rich biochemistry found in plants.”