Nature’s Pharmacy: Scott Farrow studies the Biochemistry of Medicinal Plants

Medicinal plants are extremely valuable to human health!

This is because they offer a wide range of solutions to sicknesses.

However, there is evidence that suggests climate change is causing a big threat to the life cycle and distribution of plant species!

If we destroy our stock of medicinal plants, we could lose a lot of their treatment benefits for human health! 

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You may wonder how big a role plants play in daily medicine!

On April 12, Dr. Scott Farrow came to Trent University to deliver a guest lecture : Harnessing Nature’s Biochemical Toolkit for New & Known High-Value Chemicals. 

Dr. Farrow is from Etobicoke, Ontario and he studies the biochemistry of medicinal plants.

His lecture focused on how plants produce secondary metabolites, which are chemicals produced by plants that are not essential to growth and development but may offer special genetic advantages. 

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Some examples are the blue colour blueberries and the scents of citrus fruits!

These secondary metabolites are often useful in medicine and industry.

For example:

  • Opium poppy is the source of analgesic morphine
  • Madagascar periwinkle provides essential precursors for the anti-cancer drugs

Recent breakthroughs in technologies allow researchers like Dr. Farrow to discover the enzymes that facilitate the production of secondary metabolites to be used in medicines.

Scott is interested in developing synthetic biology for biochemical pathway construction in suitable hosts like yeast, bacteria, algae, tobacco and moss.

This includes discovering novel secondary metabolites and biosynthetic enzymes, and the creation of new-to-nature compounds  through combinatorial biochemistry.

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Scott’s research involves:

  1. Solving the biochemistry of high-value, medicinal chemicals like morphine.
  2. Finding new medicines for pain relief and treating mental health disorders.
  3. The opiate drug epidemic and mental health in general.
  4. How we can use plants to treat disease.

Scott’s research solved the missing steps in morphine biosynthesis and discovered fundamental aspects of opiate alkaloids biochemistry.

Specifically, he discovered how morphine and other chemicals are made in opium poppy.

His discoveries are being used to find alternative ways of accessing opiates, and have changed the way we view enzymes in plants!

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Scott tells us that plants have and will continue to be a source of medicine, and we should learn and understand the chemical complexity of plants to help advance medicine and industry worldwide – and most importantly, we should be concerned with protecting these important species! 

Thank you Scott for providing us with this guest lecture and reminding us of the important value of plants for medicine. 

 

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