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Plants are stationary soldiers. Rooted to one spot, they are not able to chase nutrients or flee from herbivores and pathogens. So in addition to the basic metabolites they synthesise for their survival, they produce a diverse array of organic compounds through specialised biochemical pathways to counterattack threats.

Some of these compounds have been found to combat human threats as well, and herbalists have been scouring these palettes of secondary metabolites for their health-promoting properties for centuries.

Modern medicine also incorporates plant compounds. Around 80% of the world’s population already relies on ethnobotanical remedies and plant drugs, such as the antineoplastic Taxol, the antimalarial artemisinin, the analgesic codeine, the antidiabetic allicin, and the cardiac depressant quinidine.

The high cost of new drugs, unpalatable side-effects and microbial resistance are driving a constant and renewed public interest on alternative and complementary medicine. Yet only a small fraction of the vast diversity of plant metabolism has been explored.

Original article by Michelle Vierra, Strategic Marketing Manager at Pacific Biosciences

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