Researchers at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi have revealed that a common weed called American mayapple has been found to produce anti-cancer compound podophyllotoxin.
This discovery attains significance because it suggests that American mayapple soon offer an alternative to its Indian counterpart, which has been harvested almost to extinction because of its anti-cancer properties.
The researchers point out that podophyllotoxin is used in manufacturing etoposide, the active ingredient in a drug used for treating lung and testicular cancer.
Currently, add the researchers, podophyllotoxin is produced commercially using the roots and rhizomes of Indian mayapple, the endangered species harvested from the wild in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and China.
Published the results of their latest research in HortScience, Valtcho D. Zheljazkov of Mississippi State University said: "The objective of this study was to estimate podophyllotoxin concentration in American mayapple across its natural habitats in the eastern United States and to identify high podophyllotoxin types that could be used for further selection and cultivar development."
The researchers studied the effect of location, plant nutrient concentration, and phytoavailable nutrients in soil on podophyllotoxin concentration in American mayapple across its natural habitats in the eastern US.
In what is being suggested to be the largest study of its kind, American mayapple leaves were collected from 37 mayapple colonies across 18 states.
The groundbreaking study confirmed that mayapple colonies in the eastern part of the US could be used to develop high podophyllotoxin cultivars, which could subsequently provide the base for commercial production of podophyllotoxin in the country.
The researchers hope that their findings will help develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) map of the genetic resources of American mayapple in the US.