Planta Med 2008; 74 - SL11
DOI: 10.1055/s-0028-1083891

The genetic basis for bioactivity in the traditional medicine plants of Australia

SD Ingrey 1, BA Neilan 1
  • 1School of Biotechnology & Biomolecular Science, the University of New South Wales, 2052, Australia

Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and traditional people. The indigenous inhabitants of Australia, the Australian Aboriginals, use a range of plants from their tribal lands for their medicinal purposes. However, it is generally accepted that it may not be the actual plant that is responsible for the medicinal properties but organisms that reside in the living tissues of the plant known as endophytes [1]. Selected plants and their endophytes' genomes will be screened, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for genes that encode the enzyme complexes, non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS) and polyketide synthases (PKS), which are involved in the biosynthesis of many bioactive compounds. Previously, six different plant species medicinally used from the Dharawal and Dunghutti tribal area (Sydney and north coast, NSW) were screened for NRPS and PKS genes. Four plant species and a soil sample possessed NRPS genes while five plant species showed PKS amplification [2]. Two plant species, so far, have been screened for endophytic growth. Surface sterilised plant material was transferred to several different agar media. Results show that plant species 1 had two endophytic organisms growing within the leaf. Plant species 2 had an endophytic Penicillium species growing within the plant stem. The Penicillium species also contained PKS genes similar to those of other fungal species PKS. Using the available traditional knowledge of medicinal plants coupled with modern genetic techniques allows for greater potential to discover new bioactive compounds with conservation of traditional knowledge and its biological source.

References: 1. Strobel, G. et al. (2004). J Nat Prod. 67:257–68.

2. Ingrey, S.D. (2004) Honours thesis.