Thursday, March 14, 2013

Black Bat Flower


While researching the genus Tacca, which contains many fascinating examples of flower diversity and evolution, I found an interesting article about the biomedical applications of the plant. This is the Black Bat Flower, Tacca chantrieri. There are 30 other species in the genus. T. chantrieri is found primarily in Asia, specifically China, Indochina, and Malaysia. I was originally looking at this species as an interesting example of pollination specialization: it’s pollinated by flies.
However, it also contains very potent toxins that may have biomedical applications as cancer-fighting drugs. An important chemotherapy drug, Taxol, is derived from the Yew family. It’s a microtubule stabilizer, meaning that it freezes intercellular microtubules that are vital to cellular processes. This kills both healthy and cancerous cells. Also, the body can eventually build up cellular resistance to Taxol, and it is potentially toxic at high doses. Scientists from the University of Texas have been isolating substances from the Bat Flower in hopes of finding a better, plant-derived alternative. Now, a substance has been found with the same properties as Taxol that can specifically target cancerous cells. This property has been observed in other plant-derived cancer drugs, but this is the first drug with the same potency- and fewer harmful effects- as Taxol. The team also discovered exactly how the taccalonolides interact with microtubules and target cancer cells specifically. In terms of the plant’s biology, these toxins may be partly responsible for the low rates of cancer (and mutation) in plants.

1 comment:

Grace O'Shane said...

These are some great and new things to learn from the genus Tacca. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about plants.