The Medicinal Health Benefits of Plants

by on November 1st, 2010
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Plants are used in our every day lives from the wood in our furniture to the cleaning products we use and even the perfumes we wear. Plants also play a major role in our health. There are some well-known medicines that have been derived from plants. The foxglove plant is used to create a cardiac muscle stimulant know as digoxin and the periwinkle plant is a common ingredient for the chemotherapy drugs vincristine and vinblastine. These plants and many others are commonly found in people’s household gardens and flower boxes. Scientists believe there are probably many more undiscovered plants that can provide medicinal benefits.

Recently scientists from around the world got together to study how plants produce the wide variety of diverse chemical compounds with medicinal value. The study was conducted by the Medicinal Plant Consortium (MPC) and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The goal was to develop knowledge that would make it possible to engineer plants in order to produce larger quantities of the useful compounds they provide.

The researchers studied the chemical compositions and genetic make-up of 14 common plants including foxglove, ginseng and periwinkle. All plants produce chemicals from a process known as biosynthesis. The team determined the chemical profile of each plant then studied their genetic blueprint in order to see how the plants might control various chemical compositions. Currently researchers understanding of genes and the molecules involved in the formation of medicinal compounds derived from plants are very incomplete.

The research conducted has resulted in an explosive increase in the knowledge and capacity for scientists to understand a plant’s biological process. It has enabled them to better understand the genes, enzymes and processes responsible for the development of plant-derived drugs. They will now be able to uncover new drugs from the plants they’ve studied and increase the efficiency of those currently being used.


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