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Plants as Source of Bioactives

The explosive growth of modern biology in recent times has created a new awareness of the unlimited biotechnical potential of natural products. Plants are genetically controlled nature’s chemical factory, and it has been used as a source of useful products for centuries. Despite of application of modern techniques such as molecular modeling, combinatorial chemistry and synthetic methods, natural products, and particularly medicinal plants, remains an important source of new drugs or drug leads. The key to the success of discovering naturally occurring therapeutic agents rests on bioassay-guided fractionation and purification procedures. To meet the challenging resource needs of ever-increasing populations, it is necessary to revitalize the investigation of natural products which would expand our resource base.

Natural products Research involves the study of chemicals produced in plants, and this study involves extraction, purification, identification, and structure determination. Differential solvent extractions (hot and cold) are the most common procedure. Further separation is carried out by column chromatography, centrifugal chromatography, gel filtration chromatography, selective precipitation techniques etc. Isolated fractions are screened for relevant bioassays and the active fractions are analyzed using chemical and spectroscopic techniques. Purified and identified samples are subjected to biological investigations such as antioxidant activity, nitric oxide assay, DNA protection, tyrosinase inhibition, cell signaling studies.

Value Addition to Underutilized Biosources

There are a wide range of underutilized plants with well-known nutritional and medicinal properties. They have the potential for further promotion as they are locally available or as byproducts or waste materials. They are culturally accepted and often well-established component of life systems and diets. Some of the isolated phytochemicals from them have commercial value.

Studies on Seabuckthorn

Seabuckthorn (SBT), (Hippophae L.) are deciduous shrubs in the genus Hippophae, family Elaeagnaceae. In addition to the nutritionally active constituents, many clinically important activities of seabuckthorn (SBT), such as beneficial effects on skin, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, wound healing, cancer chemo preventive action, antiviral activity, sunscreen and radioprotection have been established. Unfortunately, most of the reported studies have been carried out with ill-defined crude extracts (e g “flavone”, “hydro alcoholic extracts”, “SBT oil”, “aqueous extracts”).

`Due to non-uniformity, the results are often not reproducible. Therefore, there is urgent need for identification of active principles. Presently, work in the laboratory is directed towards the isolation and characterization of active principles/fractions from bioactive fractions of SBT. Isolated compounds will be available for the treatment of diseases such as diabetes, dermatitis, CVD, peptic ulcers, sunscreen and radio protective formulations, wound healing agents. Wherever isolation presents difficulty within a reasonable time frame, the extracts will be standardized with respect to biomarkers and fingerprinting.

Cashewnut shell liquid (CNSL)

CNSL is a byproduct of processing of cashew industry (Anacardium occidentale). It is a rich source of non- isoprenoid phenols. Anacardic acids, cardol and cardanol have been isolated from CNSL. UV, NMR and MS Individual components have been separated and characterized. Studies in the in-house activity evaluation shows that anacardic acids inhibit the catalytic activity of matrix metalloproteinase-2 and matrix metalloproteinase-9. This has relevance in the cancer therapy. Cardol and cardanol are important industrial raw materials for polymer synthesis. Cashewnut shell liquid (CNSL), a byproduct of cashew industry) is mostly composed of anacardic acids. Traditionally CNSL has been used for healing cracked foot.


Sesuviumportulacastrum commonly known as sea purslane is a sprawling perennial herb that grows as weed in coastal areas throughout the world. It has been found to be a good source for ecdysterone, which has many pharmaceutical and nutraceutical properties such as improves lipid metabolism, has immunomodulatory effects and effects on CNS. Gomphrena celosioides, Cosciniumfenestrum leaves, discarded from ayurved industry and Diploclisiaglaucescens are the other sources of ecdysterone and other related compounds. Many known pharmacologically important compounds were isolated and characterized from the underutilized plants. In-house investigation reveal that it has good wound healing activities. This source of ecdysterone was used for field experiments.

Coconut Shell

Coconut shell is the hardest part of the fruit. Large amount of shell is obtained as by-product from kernel based (copra) processing units. Despite its domestic uses, major part of the coconut shell remains as a waste material. A significant inhibition of gelatinase was observed in the presence of coconut shell extract (COSE). In addition to MMPs, the effect of extract on Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) which play a significant role in promoting various types of cancer. Oxyresveratrol was identified as the phytochemical component responsible for these activities. Another inhouse study established that oxyresveratrolcould target pathogens in the gut without exerting negative impacts on growth of beneficial strains.

Bioactives from waste materials

Process Development

In the Phytochemistry laboratory, development, analysis, and optimization of technical processes for target dependent bioactive compound isolations and assays are carried out.

A Process for Obtaining Phytoecdysteroid Rich Extract

An eco-friendly process for isolation of ecdysterone and related compounds has been devoloped(patentawarded). It utilizes a very small quantity of solvents. The process involves selective isolation for obtaining phytoecdysteroid depending upon the accompanying contaminants present in the plant extract.

A Practical Procedure for Isolation of Anacardic Acids and Analogs From Plants.

A simple and quick process for isolation of non-isoprenoid phenolics such as anacardic acids and their analogs from plant sources such as cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) has been developed. It provides selective isolation and obtaining anacardic acids, cardol, cardanol and related compounds present in the extracts from different parts of plants. The process is eco-friendly, simple, and quick.

Indigenous Formulations of IGR’s for Sericulture – Rural Development.

Sericulture   is a labor intensive agro based industry which provides a continuous income throughout the year. Mainly women are involved in this cottage industry. Sericulture serves as an important tool for rural reconstruction, benefiting the weaker sections of society; sericulture provides not only periodical return within short period of time but also assures own family employment. Our field studies in the farmers’field show that insect growth regulators (IGR’s) such as juvenile and moultinghormones or their analogs (juvenoids and ecdysoids) when used judiciously, have been shown to be useful in the sericulture industry.

Insect Growth Regulator (IGRS) Formulations

Indigenous plant sources of ecofriendly insect growth regulators (both phytoecdysterones and juvenoids) have been identified. Viable economic methods for their preparations have been established. Materials are being tested in the farmer’s field. Optimum doses and timing of application of IGRs for sericulture determined. The studies have been extended to the north-eastern region India.The results of the formulations indicates that natural compounds are mimicking juvenile hormones and contribute to the increase in yield of silk fibre.

Prebiotic Fish Feed: An Enriched Formulation from Underutilized Plant Biomass

The possibility and potential benefits of using underutilized plant parts as a sustainable and cost-effective fish feed alternative is experimentally studied. Phytochemical and nutrient from these sources will be used to enrich the feed.

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