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Two New Monographs on Medicinally Active Natural Products in Plants

Press Release No. 124/2010
9 June 2010
Of interest for pharmacists, physicians, medical scientists, botanists and biotechnologists

Two new monographs edited by Prof. Dr. Michael Wink, director at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, are of especial interest for pharmacists, physicians, medical scientists, botanists and biotechnologists. The works discuss plant secondary metabolites, biogenic medicinal substances and poisons. The two publications “Functions and Biotechnology of Plant Secondary Metabolites” and “Biochemistry of Plant Secondary Metabolism” provide an extensive overview of the present status of research in the relevant fields.

Plants produce a large number of low-molecular natural substances that are also known as “secondary substances” because most of them are irrelevant for primary metabolism in plants. In the course of evolution they developed into protective substances that fend off plant-eaters (herbivores), bacteria, fungi and viruses and even rival plants. Other secondary substances have a signalling function designed to attract insects, birds and other animals required for pollination and seed dispersal, or they serve as UV protection and antioxidants. “Plants cannot run away when challenged by an herbivore and they have no immune system against pathogens. So the evolutionary solution was to synthesise and store mostly low-molecular metabolites that we humans frequently classify as poisons,” says author Michael Wink. Secondary metabolites are of immense significance for pharmaceutics, medicine and biotechnology. In their pure form, many of them are used for medical purposes, for example in the fight against cancer. “Complex combinations of extracts from medicinal plants are still used in phytotherapy all over the world,” says Prof. Wink. “In many cases clinical studies have established their efficacy.”

The monograph “Functions and Biotechnology of Plant Secondary Metabolites” focuses primarily on the biological functions and molecular modes of action of these secondary metabolites. One issue addressed is how valuable natural substances can be produced in future via cell cultures or microorganisms. The second publication “Biochemistry of Plant Secondary Metabolism” specifically addresses the biosynthetic pathways leading to the formation of the various secondary substances. It also proposes a new model of the evolution of secondary metabolism.

Wink, M. (ed.): Functions and Biotechnology of Plant Secondary Metabolites. Annual Plant Reviews Vol. 39, 2010
Wink, M. (ed.): Biochemistry of Plant Secondary Metabolism, Annual Plant Reviews Vol. 40, 2010

Prof. Dr. Michael Wink
Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology
phone: +49 6221 544881

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