Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Insect Warning Colors Aid Cancer And Tropical Disease Drug Discovery

Date:
July 12, 2008
Source:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Summary:
Brightly colored beetles or butterfly larvae nibbling on a plant may signal the presence of chemical compounds active against cancer cell lines and tropical parasitic diseases, according to researchers. Such clues could speed drug discovery and provide insight into the ecological relationships between tropical-forest plants and insects that feed on them.

Colorful beetle may indicate useful plant chemicals.
Credit: Don Windsor, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Brightly colored beetles or butterfly larvae nibbling on a plant may signal the presence of chemical compounds active against cancer cell lines and tropical parasitic diseases, according to researchers at Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Such clues could speed drug discovery and provide insight into the ecological relationships between tropical-forest plants and insects that feed on them.

"These findings are incredibly exciting and important," said Todd Capson, STRI research chemist, who directed the project. "The results of this study could have direct and positive impacts on the future of medical treatment for many diseases around the world."

For this research scientists used plants already known to have anti-cancer compounds; those proven to be active against certain disease-carrying parasites; and plants without such activity. The study showed that beetles and butterfly larvae with bright warning coloration were significantly more common on plants that contained compounds active against certain diseases, such as breast cancer and malaria. There was no significant difference in the number of plain-colored insects between plants with and without activity, according to the study by the Smithsonian's Panama International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program.

"We put two and two together," said researcher Julie Helson. "We knew that brightly colored insects advertise to their predators that they taste bad and that some get their toxins from their host plants. But because other insects cheat by mimicking the toxic ones, we weren't sure if insect color was really going to work to identify plants containing toxins--it did!" Helson was a student at McGill University when she conducted this research in 2005.

The Smithsonian's PICBG program first demonstrated that theories about chemical defense in rainforest plants--such as the idea that young leaves tend to be richer in defense chemicals--can significantly improve the efficiency and lower the cost of drug discovery, when compared with a random screening approach.

Although the idea that brightly colored insects could facilitate the search for medicinally active plants has been discussed for decades, the concept had never been rigorously tested. This new work at the Smithsonian provides another example of how ecology can contribute to the discovery of novel medicines. The study suggests that a quick screen for insects with warning coloration on tropical plants may increase the efficiency of the search for compounds active against cancer and tropical parasitic disease by four-fold. "It's very gratifying to see that it works in the field." said Capson. "I am hopeful that other investigators will follow our lead and test our theory that insects can lead us to plants with disease-fighting properties."

This work also demonstrates that protecting tropical forests―not just the insects and plants, but at every level--has the potential to provide immeasurable benefits to human health.

The authors thank staff at Panama's Institute of Advanced Scientific Research and High Technology Services, Panama's National Authority of the Environment and the University of Panama.

Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups program, grant numbers 1U01 TW01021-01 and 1U01 TW006634-01, the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a Levinson Fellowship from the STRI-McGill NEO program.

 


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Julie E. Helson, Todd L. Capson, Timothy Johns, Annette Aiello and Donald M.Windsor. Ecologically and evolutionarily guided bioprospecting: the use of aposematic insects as potential guides to tropical rain forest plants with activity against disease. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 DOI: 10.1890/070189

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Insect Warning Colors Aid Cancer And Tropical Disease Drug Discovery." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708171536.htm>.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (2008, July 12). Insect Warning Colors Aid Cancer And Tropical Disease Drug Discovery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708171536.htm
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Insect Warning Colors Aid Cancer And Tropical Disease Drug Discovery." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708171536.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) — A disease that has killed more than six million cave-dwelling bats in the United States is on the move and wildlife biologists are worried. White Nose Syndrome, discovered in New York in 2006, has now spread to 25 states. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) — Scientists say for the extremely elderly, their stem cells might reach a state of exhaustion. This could limit one's life span. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) — A kangaroo was saved from drowning in a backyard suburban swimming pool in Australia's Victoria state on Thursday. Australian broadcaster Channel 7 showed footage of the kangaroo struggling to get out of the pool. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) — A new study says marijuana use could lead to serious heart-related complications. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins