Plant-derived compounds have been used in medicine throughout history. This book focuses on the search for new compounds, particularly from plants previously unknown to Western scientists. As environmental issues become increasingly urgent, the search for plant materials for both drugs and agrochemicals is of prime and effort is required to ensure that this information is reported in an unambiguous and systematic way ; the book considers ways in which this can be achieved efficiently and means by which countries that provide knowledge or plant materials can benefit from commercial development of those commodities.
Different ways of synthesizing natural compounds and of developing more potent analogues are considered. In particular, elucidation of the role of secondary metabolites in plant defense mechanisms is described. The determination of the synthetic pathway for such metabolites, which are often useful chemical starting materials, has shown that many of the enzymes are coordinately induced when the plant is stressed in some way. The possibility of exploiting this for production of large amounts of the enzymes and hence of these metabolites is explored. The book includes discussion of the comparative merits of obtaining products from plants grown in the field or plantation, from plant cells grown in culture or by chemical synthesis from natural lead compounds. Genetic engineering of plants to increase the yield of desired substances, to improve nutritional value of food crops or to confer resistance to pests and herbicides promises significant advances ; this book considers the feasibility of achieving such progress in the near future.