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Cindy Fox Aisen
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Potential industrial and agricultural uses of Echinacea trump health claims

June 29, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- Echinacea has been used for hundreds of years as an herbal remedy to prevent or treat colds, and today it is among the most commonly used herbal medicines in North America. However, in spite of its popularity, studies of the effect of the herb on the body's immune system are conflicting.


Now researchers from the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis are investigating the possibility that Echinacea has other potentially more important uses -- not in health, but in the fields of petrochemicals and agriculture.

Using the cutting-edge tools of the newest "-omics" -- metabolomics and transcriptomics -- Robert Minto, associate professor of chemistry in the School of Science, is studying the lipid metabolism of the herb, bioprospecting the plant's genes and enzymes.

"The goal of our National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project is to gain a better understanding of this plant, which in spite of its popularity, has not received the basic scientific scrutiny of so-called model plants like corn, rice and soy," said Minto, who directs the IUPUI Signature Center for Membrane Bioscience. "We are identifying and mapping the complex biosynthetic metabolic pathways, especially the alkamide pathway. We hope that this work will lead us to a better understanding of the plant's metabolic processes with wide-ranging application in such diverse fields as lubrication and design of disease-resistant plants."

According to Minto, the study of the unique metabolic characteristics of Echinacea and other natural plants should translate into the creation of novel bio-derived compounds.

Minto and fellow IUPUI researchers are collaborating on this study with investigators from Iowa State University.

About the School of Science

The School of Science at IUPUI is committed to excellence in teaching, research, and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The School is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy. For more information go to