From natural histories to chemical ecology

WP1. The observation of Nature as a source of bioactive natural products

Subnat2014The observation of natural phenomena can be one of the most prolific sources of biologically relevant compounds. There is a profusion of examples, an early one being the discovery of the antibiotic penicillins by Alexander Fleming when he observed that a fungal contaminant from the Penicillium genus was able to inhibit the growth of bacterial colonies on Petri dishes;[1] and a recent one being the discovery of dentigerumycin as bacterial mediator of an ant-fungus symbiosis, this bacterial antibiotic protecting the fungus from fungal parasites.[2] Such examples are not limited to the microbial world and phytotoxins like juglone have been well known as walnut tree-derived toxins accumulating in the underneath soil, thus regulating the growth of other plants.[3] Natural products from marine sources have also demonstrated their potent toxicity, thus acting as defence molecules for stationary organisms, and have consequently provided anticancer compounds (like trabectedin from Ecteinascidia turbinata).[4] In addition, the study of medicinal plants traditionally used by human communities has also provided a fruitful matter of research for natural product chemists interacting with ethnobotanists while a large part of the occidental pharmacopoeia is also originated from plants.[5] Today, about one third of commercialized medicines would thus be derived from natural products.[6] However, the global changes supposedly provoked by human activities worldwide will most probably result, during our century, in the sixth mass extinction of living species (possibly including ours) [7]. An inventory of the current biodiversity, especially at the genetic and molecular levels, is thus urgently needed. In WP1, the natural product chemists will be key partner in this endeavour. Observing living organisms and their interactions in Nature at the molecular level, as studied by chemical ecology, may indeed be at the origin of important discoveries with a high societal impact (medicine, agriculture or even energy).

In WP1, a particular concern will be paid to the respect of the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (2010).[8] This will be done through the signature of material transfer agreements when biologically derived material must be imported in one or the other partner country, ensuring access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing and encouraging the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities.

[1] A. Fleming, Brit. J. Exp. Pathol. 1929, 10, 226–236.

[2] D.-C. Oh, M. Poulsen, C. R. Currie, J. Clardy, Nature Chem. Biol. 2009, 5, 391–393.

[3] R. J. Willis, Allelopathy J. 2000, 7, 1-55.

[4] C. Cuevas, A. Francesch, Nat. Prod. Rep. 2009, 26, 322-337.

[5] G. A. Cordell, Phytochem. Lett. 2014, 10, xxviii–xl.

[6] D. J. Newman and G. M. Cragg, J. Nat. Prod. 2016, doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.5b01055.

[7] A. D. Barnosky, N. Matzke, S. Tomiya, G. O. U. Wogan, B. Swartz, T. B. Quental, C. Marshall, J. L. McGuire, E. L. Lindsey, K. C. Maguire, B. Mersey, E A. Ferrer, Nature 2011, 471, 51-57.

[8] Official website of the convention on biodiversity: