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Frontiers of Discovery
Applied Research
 PROFILE: James S. Miller
Jim Miller Curator Jim Miller is head of the Department of Applied Research and coordinates the Garden's programs in economic botany. His research interests include systematics of tropical Boraginaceae, and he continues to describe new species from both the old and new world tropics.
Photo: Trent Foltz

Raw Material for Future Discoveries

With a few clicks of a computer mouse, Jim Miller displays a Web page unadorned by catchy graphics - it is a list of bioactive compounds that have been isolated from plants collected by Garden researchers. The roster, numbering more than a dozen, includes compounds that exhibit bioactivity against malaria and show promise in anti-HIV screens and other pharmaceutical investigations.

"Plants have always been the primary source for medicinal compounds. Nature is the world's best chemist," says Miller, who directs the Garden's natural products research program. As the provider of raw materials for further evaluation, the Garden plays an important part in an urgent mission.

"The genes that exist in the natural world are all the raw material we have for developing new food crops," said Miller, "but the species that could supply those genes are going extinct at an unprecedented rate."

Natural products research holds a great deal of promise, but it moves at a careful page. From the time a plant is collected and tested to the release of a commercial drug, 10 to 15 years can elapse.

"Bioprospecting supports botanical research and conservation of endangered species," Miller continued. "At the same time, it has great potential to benefit human health."

A. korupensis Ancistrocladus korupensis, discovered by Garden researchers in Cameroon, yielded michellamine B, an alkaloid that showed anti-HIV activity in NCI tests and may yield important pharmaceutical applications in the future. The species provided a second active compound, which displays anti-malarial activity and is named gentrymine B in memory of the late Garden curator Dr. Alwyn H. Gentry. Garden researchers collaborated with NCI and Cameroon scientists to cultivate plants to provide ample material for further testing.
Photo: Roy Gereau
St. John's Wort Bioprospecting requires the expertise of botanists trained to locate and identify plants with precision. The Garden is developing guidelines for identifying species used in dietary supplements.
Shown: St. John's wort, Hypericum.
Photo: Heidi Schmidt

Frontiers of Discovery: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Next Section >>
Text and photos from "The Unseen Garden" available from MBG Press.
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