Applied Research Department
Natural Products Research
Garden botanists are active in research to discover new pharmaceutical, agricultural, and nutritional products from natural sources. In partnership with government, private, and university research labs, Garden discovery programs have included activities in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, China, Gabon, Ghana, Republic of Georgia, Madagascar, Suriname, Tanzania, and the United States. More than a dozen bioactive chemical compounds new to science, some with interesting therapeutic potential, have been discovered through these programs. In 2001 the Garden was awarded a fourth contract to collect plant samples in tropical Africa and Madagascar for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for screening in their drug discovery program. Under the current contract managed by James S. Miller, Head of the Department, collecting will continue in Madagascar in conjunction with collaborators from the Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza and the Centre National d’Application des Recherches Pharmaceutiques (CNARP) in Madagascar. Richard Randrianaivo is responsible for collecting plants for NCI in Madagascar. Adam Bradley maintains the NCI database and processes the collections. Gordon McPherson identifies NCI specimens. Ruth Ann Bizoff handles numerous administrative details and coordinates activities in St. Louis for the department.
In 1993 the Garden began collaboratting with the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG) led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute on a project designed to stimulate biodiversity conservation in Suriname by demonstrating the value of biodiversity to the country and its people. In 1998 the project’s activities expanded to include Madagascar, in collaboration with the Centre National d’Applications et des Recherches Pharmaceutiques (CNARP) and the Centre National de la Recherche Appliquée au Développement Rural (TEF). Another partner, Dow Agrosciences, Inc., joined the group to evaluate plants for potential agricultural applications. The ICBG project is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service. The Garden’s primary role in the project has been to provide samples of plant species collected from numerous localities. Miller coordinates the Garden’s portion of the project. In 1999 the Malagasy government approved another proposal for ICBG activities that was submitted by CNARP, Conservation International, and the Garden. In addition to providing samples for pharmaceutical and agricultural evaluation, this project will generate annotated checklists of the Zahamena and Ankarafantsika reserves. Chris Birkinshaw coordinates project activities in Madagascar.
The Garden is participating in a project led by the University of Missouri-Columbia and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Garden botanists will identify plant species used as active ingredients in dietary supplements, while researchers from the university will isolate active chemicals, document their efficacy, and study how these compounds act in the human body. One of the Garden’s most important contributions to this project will be to produce a manual that will help manufacturers of herbal medicines and dietary supplements properly identify the plants that are used to make their products. Wendy Applequist is writing this book, which will present detailed anatomical features of popular plants to assist professionals in confirming the identity of plants in commercial use. The protocols developed for identifying plants used as ingredients in herbal supplements will ensure that desirable species are not confused with look-alikes or contaminated with other species. In connection with this project, Wendy has been doing field work in the United States to collect relevant plant material, with the assistance of Heidi Schmidt and Adam Bradley. She is also working on projects dealing with the systematics, infraspecific variation, or nomenclature of various species of medicinal plants. Dennis Lubahn (University of Missouri, Columbia) is the Principal Investigator for the project, and Jim Miller coordinates the Garden’s participation.
Sequoia Sciences: The Garden has entered into aa partnership with Sequoia Sciences, a natural products chemistry company based in San Diego. Sequoia rapidly produces natural product compound libraries for evaluation in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and agrochemical discovery programs. Sequoia is extracting samples using rapid purification processes to provide corporate partners with structurally diverse, novel molecules with selective biological activity.
In January 2000, MBG and Sequoia signed a collaborative agreement with Gabon’s Centre National de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (CENAREST) to collect plant samples for commercial development. John Stone and Gretchen Walters are responsible for collecting specimens in Gabon, in collaboration with botanists at the Herbier National du Gabon (LBV). In the first year of the program, they have collected over 600 samples for Sequoia and more than 400 specimens for study and distribution to herbaria throughout the world. Field efforts have focused on regions with few collections and areas in need of botanical inventories.
Jan Salick, Curator of Ethnobotany, has worked in Yunnan Province in southwestern China four times since Summer 2000 as part of her collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and Chinese botanical institutions for an ethnobotanical project in the Meili Mountains ("Medicine Mountain" in the Tibetan language) of northwestern Yunnan. The area is important for its alpine and subalpine biodiversity, endemism, and variation. Tibetan and other ethnic minorities have been successful stewards of this biodiversity for millennia. Salick and the other scientists propose to study how the indigenous peoples have successfully managed their plant resources and the threats and mitigation of threats posed by overharvesting of useful plants. The long-term goal is to develop, support, and resurrect cultural practices that maintain and enhance biodiversity. With the Ford Foundation, the Garden and Kunming Institute of Botany are organizing field training in ethnobotany for Chinese scientists and professional fieldworkers in Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. Salick is also interested in how the Yanesha indigenous people who live in the central jungles of Peru, a major area of biodiversity, have coexisted with, sustained, and been sustained by their environment (see Peru projects). With Barbara Schaal (Washington University), Salick will study the systematics, evolution, and ethnobotany of cassava (Manihot spp.), a major food crop of the Yanesha and other peoples of the tropics around the world.
Salick, Gayle Fritz (Washington University), Cheryl Asa (St Louis Zoo), and Jim Miller (MO) have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to organize a workshop in the Spring of 2002 on "Intellectual Imperatives in Ethnobiology." There is an immediate need in the rapidly growing field of ethnobiology: 1) to define research objectives; 2) to explore modern methodology for studying plant/animal-people interactions; 3) to quantitatively analyze multidisplinary data; 4) to develop interdiscipvelop interdisclinary education models for training students of ethnobiology; and 5) to access academic funding sources. The workshop will put out a bulletin on developments and future goals for research in ethnobiology. The bulletin will define intellectual imperatives in the field for researchers in ethnobiology, as well as supply information for developing funding consortia. Research proposals will also be prepared during the course of the workshop.
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News from MO 2001 was created by Kathy Hurlbert, Leslie Miller, Eloise Cannady and Mary Merello (October 2001) and placed on the MOBOT webserver 1/22/02.