This month we have two events coming up. First there will be our 'Ask a Horticultural Scientist' week on 15 - 22 May when anyone can submit questions to a new SCI forum to be answered by our team of horticultural scientists. In the same week, on 19 May, we will be joining with other groups in the Agri-Food Hub to put on an event on Biofortified and Functional Food: A Healthy Future? to show how the latest bioscience and agronomic technologies are being employed to increase the nutritional value of food and animal feed.
Medicinal Plants: From Crop to Cure?
Over the years, extracts from plants have found use to treat many areas of disease including cancer, heart and blood conditions, pain and neurological disorders. The Horticulture and BioResources Groups conference 'Medicinal Plants: From Crop to Cure' aimed to span the sequence from plant to product: from growing the crop, through processing and development, to treatment. A series of talks to provide a platform for debate.
The seven speakers highlighted issues surrounding the current and potential uses for medicinal plant extracts. Throughout the day the importance of good experimental design was highlighted. In particular Chryssa Dimaki (Newcastle University) reported on her research using hydroponic Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) to cultivate aromatic and medicinal plants traditionally collected from the wild. This showed quality and quantity improvement in a controllable way, for essential oil extraction from such plants as Salvia fruticosa (Greek sage), Matricaria recutita (syn. M. chamomilla; camomile, Photo right by Alvesgaspar) and Origanum dictamus (hop marjoram) through the manipulation of nutrient balances within the hydroponic system. This form of cultivation is seen as a way of satisfying increasing demands for these crops as herbal remedies while helping to prevent habitat loss, degradation and loss of valuable species.
Many people believe that herbal remedies have no basis in science but Paul Chazot (Durham University) discussed the work carried out by his group in elucidating how components of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) function to treat neurological illness. Frank Waimer (Schwabe GmbH) described what a complicated process the extraction of useful compounds from plants can be. Identifying the active/useful compound(s) can be highly challenging and then controlling the quality can also be very difficult. The use of quality assurance processes throughout, from use of the European Pharmacopeia and compliance with Good Agricultural and Collection Practice to Good Manufacturing Practice were discussed as important tools in achieving the desired quality assurance.
The high variability of plant derived extracts and the challenge this creates was very much a theme. David Potter (GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd) illustrated this in his talk about the medicinal use of Cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals is licensed by the UK Home Office to grow Cannabis and to undertake research investigating the medicinal potential of the cannabinoids found in the plant. The company has launched a licensed drug, Sativex® which is an extract of the plant formulated as an oromucosal spray to treat the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
The quality, consistency and efficacy of plant-based medicines is subject to Government regulation. Michael Heinrich (London University) described the difficulties in obtaining suitable 'clinical evidence'. Melanie Pires (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) then discussed the mechanisms by which medicinal plant-based products can be licensed. It was very clear that there are difficulties for medicinal plant products in complying with regulations set up for conventional pharmaceuticals. An alternative form of registration (as Traditional Herbal Medicines) is not a route available to new products and the meeting felt that current regulation routes are not conducive to the commercial development of new products.
In her keynote address Prof Monique Simmonds (RBG Kew, picture right) explained how the Convention on Biological Diversity, although aimed at preventing exploitation of biodiversity, has in some cases slowed the exchange of plant materials with potential medicinal uses due to difficulties in coming to agreement with the government of the countries concerned. Prof Simmonds was in no doubt that more evidence is needed to support the use of medicinal plant material and that the emphasis must be on quality and improved standards to allow comparisons to be made. She also stressed the necessity to protect the existing variation in cultivated and wild plants along with the need for the sustainable use of plant materials.
Lively question and answer sessions highlighted the need for academic researchers to think in a more commercial fashion and for commercial growers to engage more with academic researchers who have innovative new crops, which need to be grown. Altogether a stimulating, thought provoking and informative day.
- Conference downloads are available - click here
Marion Stainton and Alison Foster, Oxford Botanic Garden
Plant of the Month
Echinocactus grusonii (golden barrel cactus, Mother-in-law's cushion, Cactaceae)
The golden barrel cactus hails from the Queretaro region of Mexico where it can be found growing in an area of less than 10 km2 on medium to steep slopes of volcanic rock near the Mesa de Leon. It is estimated that there are fewer than 250 plants left in the wild and the species has been listed as critically endangered on the Red List of plants. This month sees two important dates in the conservation calendar. 18 May is plant conservation day and 22 May is International Day for Biodiversity. It seems appropriate to consider this handsome plant this month in particular. Although extremely rare in the wild, this plant is widely cultivated and grown commercially. It makes an excellent specimen plant in xerophytic landscaping and an equally good low maintenance house plant! It requires a minimum temperature of 11° C and to be grown in sharply-drained soil. The common names for this plant conjure up a picture of it perfectly well but so too does the botanical name. Echino derives from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog!
This cactus flowers in early summer, with a ring of yellow flowers sitting on the top of the plant amongst the deceptively furry looking central portion. The wild population was critically reduced by the creation of the Zimapan dam and reservoir in the 1990s and despite the widespread cultivation is under further threat from wild collection. If you do wish to enjoy this plants statuesque beauty then please ensure you source it from a reputable supplier.
Alison Foster, Oxford Botanic Garden
Medicinal Plant of the Month
Eucommia ulmoides (Eucommiaceae)
This tree (Picture right by Kenpei) is near threatened in the wild but widely cultivated in China for its myriad uses. It is the only hardy rubber-producing tree. When the leaves are torn gently across, threads of rubber remain strong enough to support the torn portion. It is a hardy tree with lovely foliage and makes a handsome addition to any garden. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbology and has traditionally been used to help treat lower back pain and to strengthen tendons and bones. The bark extract is used to reduce blood pressure and contains the beta-blocker aucubin (structure below right by Calvero). This is an iridoid glycoside. Other research suggests that the tree contains components that are anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity and neuroprotective.
A common name for the tree is gutta-percha, although this name normally refers to tropical trees belonging to the Sapotaceae. Both the Eucommia ulmoides and the trees of the Sapotaceae contain a resin, which is tapped to provide solidified latex. The word Eucommia derives from the Greek for true or good (eu) and kommi (gum). This 'good gum' is used for lining pipes, insulating electric cables and filling teeth! The first transatlantic telegraph cable was insulated with gutta percha.
Alison Foster, Oxford Botanic Garden
News from our Associates
Commercial Horticultural Association
CHA Member, Russell IPM Ltd has been awarded The Queen's Award for Enterprise in recognition of the company's exceptional performance in International Trade over the last three years. 'This award is a big recognition to the hard work of every single member of staff who has helped to contribute to this achievement. It is a big thank you to all of our international partners, without their valued partnership and confidence this award would not have been possible. We aim to be able to continue to meet the high standards set by ourselves in order to obtain this award', commented Dr Nayem Hassan, Head of Research and Development at Russell IPM Ltd. More
Horticulture Industry News
Herbal controls come into force
New European Union rules have came into force on 1 May banning hundreds of traditional herbal remedies. The EU law aims to protect consumers from possible damaging side-effects of over-the-counter herbal medicines. The new regulations will allow only long-established and quality-controlled medicines to be sold. To date, the industry has been covered by the 1968 Medicines Act, drawn up when only a handful of herbal remedies were available and the number of herbal practitioners was very small. The regulations will cover widely used products such as Echinacea (picture right by Ulf Eliasson), St John's wort and valerian, as well as traditional Chinese and Indian medicines. More
New directors at Kew
Dr Tim Entwisle has been appointed as Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates, and Prof Angela McFarlane as Director of Public Engagement and Learning at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dr Tim Entwisle is a highly respected scientist and scientific communicator and joins Kew from the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust in Sydney, where he was Executive Director for over seven years. Prof Angela McFarlane came to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on secondment in 2007 to take up the role of Director of Content and Learning from Bristol University, where she was Professor of Education.
Soil bacteria mapped
Britain's soil bacteria, which are essential for healthy and productive soils, have been mapped for the first time in a comprehensive study of the country's soil biodiversity. The results are published in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The scientific team, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Newcastle University and the University of Oxford, analysed over 1000 soil cores from England, Scotland and Wales, examining microbial DNA sequences in the laboratory to map bacterial biodiversity. The study concluded that bacterial diversity was strongly related to soil pH, with acidic soils dominated by few taxa. Below ground bacterial and above ground plant communities were closely related, suggesting that soil bacteria are driven by the same ecological processes that govern higher organisms such as plants.
African seed network
A pan-African network of seed testing laboratories has been established by the African Union and the African Seed Network with the support of FAO to speed up the harmonisation of a continent-wide market in seed of traditional and non-traditional crops. Initially based in Nairobi, the Forum for Africa Seed Testing (FAST) will fast track the implementation of laws to harmonise the sector and promote seed testing and quality control, including the drafting of seed testing protocols for major crops for both public and private companies (Picture by Carlos Porto Free Digital Photos). More
Bioportal to link Scottish science and industry
Links between Tayside's Life Sciences research institutes and businesses across Scotland are being strengthened through a funding package of more than £1m. This award will fund the ongoing work of the Innovation Portal, based at the University of Dundee. The BioPortal is an innovative new project designed to further enable Tayside research institutes to form stronger links with the Scottish life sciences industry by providing a match-making service of intellectual property and skilled post-doctoral researchers with needs of small-to-medium sized businesses, or SMEs. The BioPortal project has been designed and developed to address specific barriers that prevent effective transfer of innovation from research institutes to SMEs. More
Eleven universities have produced more than half of all the spin-off companies to have been launched by higher education institutions in the past 10 years, according to new figures. Spinouts UK, a newly launched database of information on the commercialisation of intellectual property in higher education, tracks the progress of spin-offs across the sector. An analysis of its data reveals that Imperial College London produced more spin-offs than any other UK university. It fostered 59 new companies from 2000 to 2010. The other high performers were also high-ranking research-intensive universities. Imperial was followed by the universities of Oxford (55 companies), Edinburgh (49), Cambridge (44), Warwick (36), Strathclyde (35), Newcastle (28), Bristol (28), Sheffield (28) and Queen's University Belfast and Leeds (both 25). Between them, these 11 universities fostered 412 of the 820 spin-off companies formed during the decade. More
UK's first Science Garden
Opening in June 2012, an outdoor space located at the front of Birmingham's Thinktank will be transformed into a permanent public landmark, where visitors of all ages can get 'bodies on' with large-scale interactive exhibits exploring some of the key science and engineering principles that shape the world we live in. The first of its kind to be built in the UK, the Science Garden will feature more than 40 interactive exhibits spread around three distinct areas: The Factory, The Street and The Garden.
Tannin increase may alter carbon cycle
Researchers conducted a study on the red maple, Acer rubrum, to find how levels of precipitation and temperature affected the concentration and structure of tannins in the leaves. When exposed to drought and high temperatures, maple leaf litter contained twice as many tannins. Because the litter contained more tannins by weight, and the tannins were more reactive, the researchers concluded that in a natural environment, leaf litter that falls from trees to the ground could interfere with enzymes in the soil slowing the breakdown and recycling of nutrients such as nitrogen. Decreased nitrogen availability may cause plants to take up less carbon dioxide; however, slower decomposition may also mean that the plants release less carbon into the environment.
Show disease the red light
The resilience of plants to, eg mildew may possibly be improved by using red light. Preliminary experiments by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture and Plant Research International show that light colour may influence plant resilience. Light from the red spectrum in particular seems important.
Corn Gromwell could replace fish oil
Stearidonic acid (SDA) is a key precursor in the biosynthesis of long chain, omega-3, polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly found in fish oils. The health benefits of fish oils are generally well accepted and therefore with an ageing population and a declining consumption of fish products alternative sources of these fatty acids are needed for inclusion in the diet. Currently Echium is the only commercial non-GM plant source of SDA but it requires specialist harvesting equipment. Corn Gromwell Buglossoides arvensis (syn. Lithospermum arvensis pictured right by Fornax) was a well known weed of spring cereals until the extensive use of winter varieties and herbicides. NIAB TAG in collaboration with Technology Crops have developed this weed species into a commercial spring cropping opportunity with the real probability that higher yielding winter lines will soon be available. More
MEP's ignore their own science
The NFU has expressed its frustration after MEPs backed a proposal which would allow member states to ignore EU scientific advice and ban the cultivation of GM crops at a national level.
Environment Committee MEPs said member states should be allowed to disregard the EU's current authorisation procedure and make their own scientific assessment. Under their proposal, countries would be able to use environmental grounds, such as pesticide resistance or invasiveness of crops, to bring in national bans - even if EFSA had already deemed concerns unfounded. The vote was meant to toughen up European Commission proposals to allow member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of GM crops. But Dr Helen Ferrier, the NFU's Chief Scientific Advisor, said the MEPs were ignoring sound science and jeopardising food security.
Quotes of the Month
"The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, it's one who asks the right questions."
Agriculture and Food for Development
10 May, All Party Parliamentary Group, Tropical Agriculture Association
15 - 19 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
16 - 19 May (postponement likely), International Society for Horticultural Science
Food Safety - Can we ever be certain?
17 May, Institute of Food Science and Technology
23 - 26 May, International Society for Horticultural Science
25 May, British Institute of Agricultural Consultants
5 - 11 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Sustainable Plant Protection Techniques in Fruit Growing
8 - 10 Jun, Centre Technique Interprofessionnel des Fruits et Légumes
Responsible Peatland Management and Growing Media Production
13 - 17 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Quebec City, Canada
Future of Farming: What Needs to Change?
13 Jun, Tropical Agriculture Association and University of Reading
Agricultural Ecology Research: its role in delivering sustainable farm systems
15 - 16 Jun, Association of Applied Biologists
Modelling in Fruit Research and Orchard Management
19 - 23 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Apricot Breeding and Culture
20 - 24 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
The Landscaping Show
21 - 22 Jun, British Association of Landscape Industries
Augmenting production and utilisation of mango; Biotic and abiotic stresses
21 - 23 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Rubus and Ribes Symposium
22 - 26 Jun, International Society for Horticultural Science
Underutilised Plants: Crops for the Future - Beyond Food Security
27 Jun - 1 Jul, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
GM Crops: From Basic Research to Application
28 - 29 Jun, Association of Applied Biologists
28 - 29 Jun, Turfgrass, Growers Association
National Plant Show
28 - 29 Jun, Horticultural Trades Association
Landscape and Urban Horticulture
29 Jun - 3 Jul, International Society for Horticultural Science
Medicinal, Aromatic and Nutraceutical Plants from Mountainous Areas
6 - 9 July, International Society for Horticultural Science
Bee ecology and pollination in the agricultural landscape
7 July, Society of Biology
The Woking Show
13 July, The Woking Nurseries
Quality Management of Fresh Cut Produce: Convenience Food for a Tasteful Life
17 - 21 July, International Society for Horticultural Science
20 July, Haymarket Media Group
East Malling, UK
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Horticulture Group Contact Details
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