N Rønsted, MRE Symonds, T Birkholm, SB Christensen, AW Meerow, M Molander, P Mølgaard, G Petersen, R Rasmussen, J Van Staden, GI Stafford, AK Jäger (2012) Can phylogeny predict chemical diversity and potential medicinal activity in plants? A case study of Amaryllidaceae. BMC Evolutionary Biology 12: 182 PDF
What’s it about?
Using a phylogeny of the Amaryllidaceae (the group of plants that includes things like Alliums and Narcissus etc.), we investigated whether there is phylogenetic signal in therapeutic use in this group, and further whether there is a signal in particular plant secondary defensive compound types that may be associated with medicinal use. We found a weak but significant signal. The results have implications for the capacity to discover new sources of drugs from previously uninvestigated plants
What’s the story behind it?
This was really one of those out-of-nowhere papers. In late 2011 I was contacted by Nina Rønsted, a plant systematist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. She had seen my papers analysing chemical diversity from a phylogenetic perspective in terms of insect pheromones. She felt that these analyses could be useful for a data set she had compiled on medicinal compounds in plants. What started out as a basic query quickly metamorphosed into a research collaboration that we are still continuing. I though the idea of using phylogenies in this way was a really brilliant one, and the whole thing tapped into exactly the kinds of questions in terms of chemical diversity that I am interested in. We are continuing to work on Aloes and also have just started turning our attention to Australasian magnolias. On top of that, Nina also borough my son some great Lego when she visited Melbourne in early 2013, so she had the gratitude of more than one Symonds family member.