Plants Control The Molting Of Insects
A special place on the market of food supplements belongs to ecdysteroid-containing preparations that are helpful as a tonic for sportsmen during intensive training sessions, for people of various professions connected with physical and psychological stresses, and also for elderly people. Ecdysteroids heal wounds and burns.
A plant containing very high concentrations of ecdysteroids has been found by a team headed by Vladimir Volodin from the Institute of Biology in Syktyvkar. This is saw-wort (Serratula coronata). Its leaves contain more significant amounts of the active component than the roots of rhaponticum (Leuzea carthamoides) used as a medicinal plant in the former USSR. A saw-wort plantation is raised by the researchers in Syktyvkar; the plants have adapted to the northern conditions and successfully produce the active component.
The technology for ecdysteroid extraction from plant material is already designed and patented. In addition, a method for cultivating plant cells is known. Cell cultures that resemble white live clumps perfectly grow in laboratory and produce phytoecdysteroids in sufficient quantities. These cultures are added to the collection of the Institute of Plant Physiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow).
The effect of ecdysteroids is comparable to that of ginseng. The latter is the active component of preparations used as tonics in treating long-lasting infections and intoxications, neurasthenia, neuroses, and hypotonia. Ecdysteroids are officially permitted for sportsmen, as these are not stimulants, but adaptogens. High-class athletes use these substances during their pre-competition training sessions and never suffer any kind of side effects. Several foreign companies have already ordered the new food supplement from the Syktyvkar Institute of Biology.
Another plant, catchfly (Silene tatarica), attracted attention of the Syktyvkar scientists recently. It is rich in ecdysteroids too. The local population of the Komi Republic uses it as a traditional medicinal plant: the catchfly-water (an extract prepared by boiling) taken with milk and bread arouses physiological activity.
In essence, ecdysteroids are molting hormones of insects. They appear in the body of a caterpillar to let it pupate and successfully turn into a butterfly, but the dose should be appropriate. Plants that suffer every spring from attacks of hungry young caterpillars have “learned” to produce molting hormones to overdose and kill the insects. Prior to blooming, ecdysteroids are accumulated in high concentrations in leaves, and caterpillars, who eat those, soon become pupas, but never develop further – just die. So, the wise plants fabricate a natural pesticide controlling the number of insects of certain species.
However, the scientists believe that the pesticide production from ecdysteroids isolated from plants is unprofitable. Insects will soon get used to this poison, and its effect will disappear. Besides, some insects that can eat several plant species will switch from the poisonous plants to the others. The project manager, doctor of biological sciences Vladimir Volodin explains: “Presumably, nearly all plants have genes responsible for the synthesis of ecdysteroids, but they are active in only few species. If the dormant genes of, e.g., potato will be activated, then the potato will produce certain substances to kill Colorado beetle. The only problem lies in activating such genes. For its solution we propose to employ genetic engineering.”
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