Originally published March 9 2010
Natural compounds in carnivorous plants could fight human fungal infections
by S. L. Baker, features writer
(NaturalNews) The vast array of plants in nature includes carnivorous plants that kill to survive. How can a plant zap a flying or crawling insect? By using a highly evolved group of compounds and secondary metabolites to trap and absorb prey. Now Tel Aviv University researchers say they've found a way these natural plant compounds could benefit human health by fighting serious fungal infections.
The Venus fly trap is probably the best known example of a carnivorous plant. Native to the tropics, these plants lure unsuspecting beetles, ants, flies and other creatures into a cavity filled with liquid that botanists call a "pitcher". The instant insects fall into this trap, enzymes are activated that dissolve the bugs and provide the plant with needed nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen, which can be difficult to extract from soil.
For a study just published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the Israeli researchers investigated the biology of the carnivorous plant Nepenthes khasiana, which is native to India. In a media statement, Prof. Aviah Zilberstein of Tel Aviv University's Department of Plant Sciences concluded the compounds in this plant could serve as a new class of anti-fungal drugs for use in human medicine. That's because the unusual natural compounds obtained from the plant's pitcher -- specifically those known as secondary metabolites -- were found to be effective anti-fungal agents against human fungal infections that are often widespread in hospitals.
According to the media statement, there is a need for additional broadly effective anti-fungal therapies because even mildly severe cases of athlete's foot or other skin fungal infections can be difficult to cure with current drug therapies. The most serious aspect of fungal infections often occurs in hospitals, where thousands of Americans die annually from secondary fungal infections they acquired as patients.
The idea that liquid from a carnivorous plant's pitcher can prevent or treat infection is nothing new. In fact, the use of this substance has been recorded in the ancient folk literature of India, where people drink carnivorous plant pitcher "juice" as a general health aid. "There is a lot of room for developing compounds from nature into new drugs," Prof. Zilberstein stated in the media statement. "The one we are working on is not toxic to humans. Now we hope to show how this very natural product can be further developed as a means to overcome some basic problems in hospitals all over the world."
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