August 19, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Hi-Tech Pharmaceutical Plants Are Green

In environmental lingo, what could be greener than a tree?  And what is more despised by many environmentalists than chemical companies, especially the pharmaceutical and pesticide industries?  Maybe we should take a tip from plants.  They are not just environmentally friendly, they produce a myriad of complex compounds that are slowly finding their way into healthful products—and evolutionists have no idea how they do it.

Low-hanging fruit.  We know the phrase, “going after the low-hanging fruit.”  It means doing the easy tasks first.  Why, then, did PhysOrg title an article, “Nature reaches for the high-hanging fruit”?  Consider this strange introductory paragraph that affirms evolution then turns around and denies evidence for it:

In the first study of its kind, researchers have used tools of paleontology to gain new insights into the diversity of natural plant chemicals. They have shown that during the evolution of these compounds nature doesn’t settle for the ‘low-hanging fruit’ but favours rarer, harder to synthesise forms, giving pointers that will help in the search for potent new drugs.

The study is the work by a team from four institutions that used “theoretical morphology” (the art of comparing mathematically-simulated forms to living forms, such as a conch shell) to the investigation of terpenes, a group of natural products produced by plants.  Terpenes have proven useful to man.  Examples include anti-cancer drugs like taxol, fragrances, and flavorings.

“The big question is how plants have evolved to make these chemicals,” said Dr ÓMáille of the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research.  “Is there a physical explanation, based on the chemical reaction, for why certain terpenes are favoured? Are plants simply making the easy to synthesize low hanging fruit of the terpene chemical world?”

The answer, in a nutshell, is no.  “We discovered a perplexing disparity between the predicted and natural abundance of terpenes,” said Dr ÓMáille, puzzled by the results.  “The common terpenes we see in nature are predicted to be quite rare, based on the chemistry. On the other hand, the terpene forms predicted to dominate are scarcely seen in natureNature in fact reaches for the higher-hanging fruit, skewing chemical reactions to favour rarer chemicals.

Evolutionary theory survived this upset somehow: “This suggests an adaptive significance to the distribution of chemicals produced by plants,” he added.  Meanwhile, entrepreneurs could benefit by looking at plants for “natural products with potent bioactivities that could be used to help meet the ever-growing demand for new effective drugs.”

Root marketplace.  Wall Street might take some cues from the underworld.  Another article on PhysOrg announced, “Study reveals nature’s marketplaces can parallel those of humans.”  The marketplaces are those in the underground ecology of plant roots and fungi, where symbiotic interactions are more complex than previously thought. 

Like humans, plants have an uncanny ability to size up their trading partners.  “The biggest surprise was that plants can discriminate, even on a single length of their own root system, which fungi are cooperating and which fungi are not so cooperative,” Todd Palmer of the University of Florida said.  Fellow researcher Toby Kiers from Vrije University in the Netherlands quipped, “We were astounded by the bargaining power of the fungi.”  They likened the interactions to “biological markets” where cheaters are punished, cooperators rewarded, and stable relationships for mutual benefit are established.

New Scientist took the trading-floor analogy even further, saying that plants work out “fair trade” agreements even on the individual level.  Roots and fungi develop two-way interactions, both sensing and rewarding (or punishing) what the other one does: “they know who the good and bad guys are,” one team member quipped.  Reporter Ferris Jabr was sure that the researchers “have shown that they have evolved ways to enforce fair trading,” but it is not clear if he could have said this without personification and circular reasoning.

Drug store:  With such a wealth of compounds all around us in the botanical world, the hunt is on for green drugs – environmentally friendly, non-toxic compounds we can glean from plants.  Some toxicity can be good—if it kills cancer, for instance.  In a study by German and Cameroon scientists published by PLoS One,1 six medicinal compounds from Cameroonian plants were evaluated for their cytotoxicity (ability to destroy cancer cells).  The motivation is obvious:

Natural products are well recognized as sources for drugs in several human ailments including cancers. Examples of natural pharmaceuticals from plants include vincristine, irinotecan, etoposide and paclitaxel. Despite the discovery of many drugs of natural origin, the search for new anticancer agents is still necessary, in order to increase the range available and to find less toxic and more effective drugs. It has been recommended that samples with pharmacological usage should be taken into account when selecting plants to treat cancer, as several ailments reflect disease states bearing relevance to cancer or cancer-like symptoms. Therefore, we designed the present work to investigate the cytotoxicity of six natural compounds available in our research group, with previously demonstrated pharmacological activities.

Why synthesize complex organic molecules, in other words, when effective compounds are all around us?  These authors were on a treasure hunt, and did not seem to need Origin of Species for a map.  There was no mention of evolution in the paper.

1. Kuete, Wabo, Eyong et al., “Anticancer Activities of Six Selected Natural Compounds of Some Cameroonian Medicinal Plants,” Public Library of Science One, 6(8): e21762. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021762.

Darwinism is a thought drug that is useless and harmful.  Kick the habit by design.  Help your fellow man with scientific investigation of the designed wonders under your feet.  A weed in your garden could cure cancer.  Does anyone need Darwin to tell us where to look?  Don’t just grab the low hanging fruit of scientific explanation and make Darwine out of it.  Reach for quality and excellence, like plants do, by design.

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Comments

  • Rkyway says:

    “Nature reaches for the high-hanging fruit”

    – Nature isn’t a person, and therefore does not (and cannot) reach for anything. What the author has done here is to smuggle teleology in by a shabby back door.

    There is no person or mechanism that favors anything; there is nothing or no one that is hard to satisfy, and who doesn’t like to settle for so called low hanging fruit. This writing is a mess; as mixed up and convoluted as the theory itself.

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