Airdate: May 18, 2007
Scientist: John Richard (Rick) Stepp
Farmers and gardeners have been fighting weeds since time immemorial. Now it may time for the weeds to fight for us.
Medicinal Weeds - Bioactive
Farmers and gardeners have been fighting weeds since time immemorial. Now it may be time for the weeds to start fighting for us. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Many weeds contain chemical compounds which are biologically active and potentially useful for medical science.
Stepp: "The reason the plant has these compounds, is they are very effective in fighting predation. They're defense compounds. And they work very well against insects and other pests but they also tend to have biological activity in humans, meaning that they have some sort of effect on human biology. A lot of these plants that have biologically active compounds, some of these compounds in fact can have some sort of therapeutic benefit."
Rick Stepp is an assistant professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. We asked him why weeds are such a likely source of biologically active compounds.
"Well weeds are growing in highly competitive areas. They're in areas that are being colonized by new species, so they are facing a lot potential competition from other plants and also predation -- a lot of insects going around. So the fact that they've been able to thrive so well in these conditions, the fact that they can grow relatively fast is indicative that they have a lot of these biologically active compounds which are going to help them in these types of environments."
But it takes time to prove that a weed may be useful as a medicine.
"Well these plants when they are put into laboratory experiments and analyses they tend to show activity against certain bacteria and certain pathogens. That's a suggestion that it may be used medicinally and it is a long, long process from the laboratory to eventually being turned into a pharmaceutical."
Searching for plants with medicinal value, pharmaceutical companies have been studying common weeds as pokeweed and horsetail. We'll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation . I'm Jim Metzner.