Science Forward Fall 2017

Dr. Edyta Greer, Macaulay Honors College, Fall 2017

Category: PMMOP (page 1 of 2)

Papaver somniferum

Papaver somniferum is the Latin name for the opium poppy, a flowering plant whose unripe seeds are utilized in the derivation of various substances such as opium, heroin, morphine, and codeine amongst others. The first known instance of the opium poppy’s cultivation occurred sometime around 3400 BC, originating in lower Mesopotamia (Southwest Asia). From then, the plant was passed on to many different civilizations, effectively increasing its demand and spreading its cultivation along the Silk Road. One of the reasons opium was so greatly desired was the molecule’s capacity to produce powerful pain-relieving and euphoric effects (when used more recreationally).


PMMOP Ephedra Sinica

Ephedra Sinica, also known as Ephedra does not have a specific origin in which it was discovered. It is common on many shorelines of multiple continents but has become most popular in and is used in eastern/Chinese medicine. Chemically it is composed of the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudo ephedrine. It is most commonly known and associated with causing the stimulation of the central nervous system. Although it has been incorporated in varying types of tea for 5 thousand years, the FDA has attempted on multiple occasions to ban the consumption of dietary supplement containing ephedrine alkaloids. All of those bans, with the exclusion of the ban in Utah have been recalled.


Clostridium Botulinum

Clostridium Botulinum is a diverse group of pathogenic bacteria grouped by their ability to produce botulinum toxin. The organism itself is known for producing “botulinum” which is the most potent toxin known to mankind is responsible for food-borne botulism via the ingestion of the preformed toxin, infant botulism via intestinal infection by C. Botulinum, and wound botulism via infection of a wound with C. Botulinum. The botulinum toxin, although commonly associated with bulging canned foods (this bulging may occur as the result of an internal increase in pressure caused by the gas produced by the bacteria) can also be produced C. botulinum endospores that are commonly found in soil and are capable of surviving extreme conditions.

Taxus brevifolia

Taxus brevifolia otherwise known as Pacific yew or Western yew is a conifer and originates from the Pacific Northwest of North America. The chemotheraphy drug paclitaxel (taxol) is derived from Pacific Yew. This is the most well known cancer drug and the molecule important in the fight against cancer is 10-deacetyl-baccatin III.  Pacific Yew was already scarce when its potential to fight against cancer was discovered and as a result scientists not derive the taxol needed to fight cancer from close relatives of the plant.

Colchicum autumnale


Colchicum autumnale, commonly called autumn crocus or meadow saffron, is a cormous perennial that typically blooms in early fall. Its place of origin is Europe. The species can occur in high population densities, for example, in semi-natural grasslands in Austria and Germany where, as it is toxic to livestock, control measures may even be attempted. There have been some declines mainly as a result of agricultural intensification, for example in Ukraine. However, in its core distribution area, such as in parts of Germany and Austria, populations have increased recently.

PMMOP: Cannabis sativa

The plant I chose is called Cannabis sativa. It is a member of the Cannabis genus and was originally classified in 1753 by Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus. However, Cannabis plants are believed to have existed for centuries – buried cannabis seeds have been found in Siberian burial grounds dating back to 3,000 B.C. More recently, it has become widely known for its psychoactive properties. The plant contains over 500 compounds, and differences in chemical composition of Cannabis sativa may cause different reactions in humans. The plant’s main constituent is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a member of the cannabinoid class of chemical compounds. These substances act on cannabinoid receptors in body cells, which alter neurotransmitter releases in the brain. This deviance from normal brain communication disrupts several mental and physical functions, commonly leading to a state of euphoria, heightened sensory perception, altered perception of time and increased appetite.

Aconitum Napellus

Aconitum Napellus is commonly known as wolf’s bane. This common name comes from the fact that this plant was once used to poison arrows that were then used to hunt wolves. It is also sometimes referred to as monkshood and helmet flower because of its shape. It is found in moist mountains and pastures in Europe and Asia. All parts of the plant are poisonous but especially the roots and seeds.  The leaves and roots are used to make the drug aconite which used to be prescribed as a cardiac and respiratory sedative.  The presence of the alkaloid aconitine is what makes this plant poisonous.

Vinca Minor


Vinca minor, otherwise known as the common periwinkle or the myrtle, is a perennial evergreen plant native to Europe. While its exact origin is still contested, the most prevalent theory is that Vinca minor originated around the Mediterranean, South of Switzerland and between Portugal and Turkey. It is often used as an ornamental ground cover and is a widespread invasive species in much of the continental United States. However, it was also introduced to the US for its medicinal properties.

Vinca minor contains dozens of alkaloids, a group designating organic chemical compounds containing basic Nitrogen atoms. The most important of the compounds that can be extracted from the Vinca minor is vincamine (shown on the bottom left). Vincamine is an indole alkaloid found in the leaves of the plant that has a vasodilation effect on the human body. The compound specifically increases blood flow to the brain and is often taken as an anti-aging supplement. It is important to note that these effects have not been conclusively proven. The most famous derivative of vincamine is vinpocetine (shown on the bottom right). This derivative has show anti-convulsive, anti-inflammatory, vasodilation, and memory enhancing effects. Studies on vinpocetine have been largely inconclusive as well, and the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for use. Both vincamine and vinpocetine are rarely used in professional medical settings. The majority of their medical use stems from people self-administering the compounds via the consumption of tea brewed from Vinca minor leaves. The predominant use of Vinca minor has been, and seems to always be, its ornamental property as a low maintenance shrub.

Digitalis Purpurea

Digitalis Purpurea, also known as common foxglove, is a flowering plant located in woods, meadows and fields throughout mainly Europe, specifically Western Europe.  Digitalis is the component that contains digitoxin which is a cardiac lycoside.  The plant is toxic if ingested, however the digitoxin compound is extracted to be used as a medication for heart conditions.


Download (PPTX, 18.81MB)

Allium Sativum


Allium Sativum, commonly known as garlic, is an extremely popular household item. Most often used when cooking., Garlic contains at least 33 sulfur compounds and 17 amino acids. The sulfur compound responsible for garlic’s distinctive smell is allyl methyl sulfide (AMS).




« Older posts