, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 279-301,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 Jan 2010

Natural products in modern life science

Abstract

With a realistic threat against biodiversity in rain forests and in the sea, a sustainable use of natural products is becoming more and more important. Basic research directed against different organisms in Nature could reveal unexpected insights into fundamental biological mechanisms but also new pharmaceutical or biotechnological possibilities of more immediate use. Many different strategies have been used prospecting the biodiversity of Earth in the search for novel structure–activity relationships, which has resulted in important discoveries in drug development. However, we believe that the development of multidisciplinary incentives will be necessary for a future successful exploration of Nature. With this aim, one way would be a modernization and renewal of a venerable proven interdisciplinary science, Pharmacognosy, which represents an integrated way of studying biological systems. This has been demonstrated based on an explanatory model where the different parts of the model are explained by our ongoing research. Anti-inflammatory natural products have been discovered based on ethnopharmacological observations, marine sponges in cold water have resulted in substances with ecological impact, combinatory strategy of ecology and chemistry has revealed new insights into the biodiversity of fungi, in depth studies of cyclic peptides (cyclotides) has created new possibilities for engineering of bioactive peptides, development of new strategies using phylogeny and chemography has resulted in new possibilities for navigating chemical and biological space, and using bioinformatic tools for understanding of lateral gene transfer could provide potential drug targets. A multidisciplinary subject like Pharmacognosy, one of several scientific disciplines bridging biology and chemistry with medicine, has a strategic position for studies of complex scientific questions based on observations in Nature. Furthermore, natural product research based on intriguing scientific questions in Nature can be of value to increase the attraction for young students in modern life science.