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From medicine to fragrances, nature provides many of the key chemical compounds needed in an endless number of pharmaceuticals and consumer products. Now, a cutting-edge technique engineered by researchers at University of South Florida is changing the way scientists isolate these precious molecules.
"Plant natural products are already widely used across so many industries," said Ramon Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor in the USF Department of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering and a Florida 21st Century World Class Scholar. "Taxus brevifolia, for example, the Pacific yew plant, contains molecules that are used to produce a chemotherapy drug for several cancer treatments. The problem is that many of these products are expensive and difficult to extract efficiently."
Gonzalez - Research - Team - Efforts - Class
Gonzalez and his research team focused their efforts on a class of plant natural products (PNPs) called isoprenoids. With more than 50,000 of these isoprenoids synthesized in nature, they represent one of the most structurally and chemically diverse classes of molecules known to man.
Lycopene, for example, is an isoprenoid that gives tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables their color. Aside from its natural pigmentation, lycopene is can be taken to lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease and has even been shown to help prevent several types of cancer.
Citrus - Fruit - Peels - Type - Isoprenoid
Citrus fruit peels also contain a type of isoprenoid called limonene. When extracted, limonene is used as the lemon or orange fragrance in cleaning products, or as a flavoring agent in different medications.
"Nature didn't develop these pathways to efficiently produce these molecules for our use," Gonzalez said. "These metabolic pathways serve their own function in these plants, and because of that it's challenging...
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