The potential of natural products has been recognized since antiquity. They continue to contribute a great deal to modern industries by providing a wide range of chemicals; many of them now vital to modern life, such as antibiotics, cardiac drugs and insecticides, were discovered from living organisms.
Traditionally, natural product research has primarily centred around the structural elucidation of compounds. However, in recent years, research has been directed towards the physiological and ecological significance of these chemicals. We have just begun to understand the role of naturally occurring chemicals in the biological interactions of organisms with their ecosystems. The study of natural products not only provides novel bioactive compounds, but also helps in the understanding of nature's way of tackling environmental problems. These processes, which may be called “Natural Technology”, might provide us with totally new means and agents for combating diseases, controlling pests or improving agricultural productivity.
The extension of research to marine natural products has paid rich dividends. Polyoxygenated compounds such as tetrodotoxins, palytoxins and halichondrins show novel bioelectric properties which influence the ionic permeability of biological membranes. Some of these compounds show remarkable antitumour and immunomodulatory activities. So far, only a small proportion of the known flora has been subjected to chemical or biological investigations; the vast unexplored biotechnical potential of flora awaits discovery and exploitation.
A. Banerji, “Biotechnical Potential of Natural Products”, 27, p. 105, 1992.