Compounds in Plant DNA May Help Humans

houseplant That little houseplant sitting on your windowsill could one day save your life. Researchers in Canada will lead a project to analyze plant genes for their potential benefit to human health, with the results to be shared worldwide. The project was announced at this year’s BIO International Convention in Atlanta.

The four-year, $13.6 million project, which will go by the name PhytoMetaSyn, will identify genes that cause plants to produce valuable compounds. The team will look at genes from more than 75 plants. One of the project’s goals is to produce an inventory of the active genetic sequences that make a plant produce these beneficial compounds, then use these sequences to capitalize on the biosynthetic capabilities of plants. Scientists plan to insert the genes into yeast to produce commercial products such as nutrients and medicines. The DNA sequences will be shared with scientists around the world through databases. The project is supported by a number of Canadian genome research institutes and private organizations.

A number of companies are already exploring the pharmaceutical uses of plant compounds. Conpharm of Sweden successfully tested a rheumatoid arthritis drug based on extracts from the Podophyllum plant. California-based Large Scale Biology Corp. develops, manufactures, and commercializes plant-based pharmaceutical proteins and vaccines . BioPlanta of Germany has developed a technique for the production of active plant substances for use in the pharmaceutical industry. British company Phytopharm is working on plant-based treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, inflammatory bowel disease, and Parkinson’s.

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