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Research Project: Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants for Use with Low Quality Irrigation Waters: Physiological, Biochemical and Molecular Approaches

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Title: Narcotics, ruminants, parasitic diseases, and plants: 16 years of research for the USDA

Author
item Ferreira, Jorge

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/14/2016
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Historically, plants have played an important role in diet, society, and medicine among others. Native Americans used almost 3,000 different plants as medicine, "field testing" them thousands of years before Europeans came to this continent. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the world population depends on plants for their primary health care, and that approximately 25% of pharmaceutical drugs are derived or synthesized from plant natural products. Science has enabled us to extract and isolate active ingredient(s) from plants and process them into a single pharmaceutical drug. However, this monotherapy has led to the development of drug resistant parasites within few years of drug use. The isolation of quinine, artemisinin, morphine, salicylic acid, and other plant compounds has changed history and mankind, but quinine and artemisinin are no longer used in isolation. Plant compounds have a multitude of effects that can act as immune system modulators, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, allelopathic, deterrent to predatory insects or grazing animals, protection against UV, etc. But despite of their benefits to the health of humans and animals, they are specifically produced to neutralize or alleviate the hazardous effects of biotic (e.g., insects and microbes) or abiotic (e.g., drought, heat, salinity) agents on plant establishment, growth, yield, and reproduction. Although I have been a plant scientist for almost 30 years, this talk focus on the research conducted during the past 16 years working for the USDA on a range of subjects including weed science, phytochemistry, zoopharmacognosy (fate of bioactive compounds in animals), plant biochemistry, and salinity effect on agricultural crops. It includes plants that have been used as narcotics/sedative, anti-parasitic, antimalarial, and antioxidant effects in humans and livestock. Some of them, although currently unutilized commercially, are potential sources of biofuels, alternative forages, food additives, and anti-parasitic/anthelmintic compounds for organic livestock production systems. One of them (Artemisia annua) is currently the only commercial source of pharmaceuticals to treat drug-resistant malaria. Others, such as the American ginseng, are highly sought after in Canada and Asia and have sustained the micro economy of small farmers in the Appalachian region (Eastern USA). The USDA has challenged me on different aspects of agricultural research and on how to find new benefits for using and studying plants as food, forage, model systems to understand their response to the environment, and for their potential medicinal value to increase our arsenal against neglected and multi-drug resistant parasitic diseases that no longer respond to commercial pharmaceuticals. The advent of combinatorial chemistry has not succeeded in producing more new drugs than plants, and these continue to be the major lead for medicinal natural compounds to sustain our health, and to feed a growing population of humans and livestock.