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as antifungal agents. In another example, graduate student John Berger has been able to enhance the anticancer activity of a new compound by synthesizing analogs, reports Kingston. "Now we're looking for others with more activity from which we can make analogs."

Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers Squibb has put more than 3,000 extracts through 32 screens each in six different therapeutic areas, with the result that one promising compound is continuing to be tested.

While looking for potential pharmaceutical products, project scientists conduct ethnobotanical and random botanical collections. Conservation International (CI) researchers collect plants that the shamans use to treat disease and injury. Such ethnobotanical collection is time consuming. The scientists must gain the shamans' trust to be able to go with them to collect plants. Meanwhile, researchers from the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) collect plants of interest at random and end up collecting more plants.

"So which collection strategy is the most productive?" the group wondered. The best way to test plants' activity, says Kingston, is to test it against its intended application. "If you have a plant that the shamans say promotes wound healing, you test it for that benefit. But we have not done that because we don't have tests that mimic whole-body responses."

Pharmaceutical companies are interested in the fundamental biochemistry of disease and have highly specific biochemical assays that they believe provide targets for novel compounds.

"We said to ourselves, 'These plants have been picked out over centuries by the shamans, so one would expect them to be more active than plants collected at random.' So we decided to compare the activity of extracts from plants collected by CI and the Missouri Botanical Garden," Kingston says.

Using yeast-based assays, the Virginia Tech researchers found there was a slight benefit to the ethnobotanical app
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Contact: David G.I. Kingston
dkingston@vt.edu
(540) 231-6570
Virginia Tech
31-Mar-1998


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