Undergrad's Research Involves Plant With Anti-Tumor Potential

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"It's going to change everything," says University of Arizona junior Philipp von Bieberstein.

He's talking about his independent study research comparing growth of a medicinal plant in hydroponic versus aeroponic systems in greenhouses at the University of Arizona's Natural Products Center, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Von Bieberstein's research focuses on the plant Withania somnifera, a member of the tomato family that contains a potential anti-tumor agent called withaferin A, which can be isolated through chemistry. The roots of the plant have been used medicinally for more than 3,000 years in India and adjoining countries. Historically, roots were used to treat cancer, stress and neurological disorders.

His work is taking place in greenhouses at the Natural Products Center, or NPC, which has a mission to discover and utilize arid land plants for natural products in both medicinal and agricultural applications.

Successful economies in arid lands, especially in the southwestern United States, depend upon developing new resources that require less water.

"For the survival of arid lands under these harsh ecological conditions, they have to produce natural products," says Leslie Gunatilaka, director of the NPC.

Gunatilaka's research group at the NPC focuses on utilizing the biologically active compounds in the aerial parts of the Withania somnifera plant to potentially treat cancer, stress and neurological disorders. The group anticipates the demand for the compound will be great in the future. As the patent holder for production of the withaferin A compound by aeroponic cultivation, the group is investigating how to produce the compound more efficiently.

During the fall semester, von Bieberstein began working on an independent study regarding the effects of different growing conditions on the overall production of biomass in Withania somnifera. In the experiment, the biomass consists of the aerial parts of the plant – the stem and leaves – harvested for use.

Read the rest of this February 18 UANews article at the link below.

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