What Is Natural Products Chemistry

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Natural products chemistry is the branch of science interested in discovering new pharmaceutical compounds from natural sources, such as plants, animals, and bacteria. While there are many methods of developing new drugs, throughout the history of pharmaceuticals, naturally occurring products have been the source of more pharmaceuticals than any other source.

Some well known examples of commercially available pharmaceuticals that are derived from natural sources include aspirin, originally derived from willow tree bark, and penicillin G, isolated from airborne molds. Naturally occurring products can be isolated from almost any source, and researchers are now probing previously unexplored environments such as Antarctic tundra, deep sea vents, and uninhabited areas of the rainforest to find unique organisms that may produce useful bioactive compounds. Numerous other examples now exist, and many universities have entire programs dedicated to preparing natural product chemists to enter industry, government, and academia positions.npc-samples

Natural products are generally isolated from naturally occurring plants, bacteria, and animals. These organisms may be cultured in the lab or collected from the wild, which is particularly common in the case of uncultivable organisms such as sponges and corals. The organisms are generally collected, ground or sliced into pieces and extracted with solvents. The pulpy solid particles are filtered off, leaving a crude extract that may then be fractionated using a combination of chemical techniques, such as column chromatography. Individual fractions can be analyzed by LC-MS and compared with existing databases of structures that may give clues to the identity of the compounds that it contains. Structural techniques such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) and X-Ray crystallography can be used to obtain structures for these compounds.

Many of these compounds exhibit some bioactivity, but either the bioactivity is limited or it also has negative side effects, such as toxicity in effective dose sizes. This has lead to the development of secondary natural products, which are derivatives, or slightly modified versions, of their naturally occurring chemical counterparts. Third generation natural products refer to natural products produced by genetic bioengineering, a dynamic new field in natural products research.

Nature has provided unparalleled opportunities for organisms to evolve unique metabolites and secondary metabolites that help the organism to survive, which explains the potential of many naturally occurring compounds to exhibit potent bioactivity. Because nature has utilized practically unlimited time in evolving these products, many are complex molecules that are able to interact with complex inhibitors that may be difficult to target using combinatorial chemistry techniques. Unfortunately, many of these molecules also have the drawback of being difficult to synthesize, making the compounds expensive and sometimes impossible to produce on a commercial scale.

Natural products provide unlimited opportunities for discovery of new potential pharmaceutical compounds. When combined with modern tools and techniques, such as genetic engineering, natural products have the potential to combat the growing threat of drug resistance. In order to make these important discoveries researcher must venture into uncharted territory to collect field samples, and combine these efforts with innovative laboratory practices.

Natural products chemistry is the branch of science interested in discovering new pharmaceutical compounds from natural sources, such as plants, animals, and bacteria. Numerous other examples now exist, and many universities have entire programs dedicated to preparing natural product chemists to enter government, academia, and industry positions.

Natural products are generally isolated from naturally occurring bacteria, plants, and animals. Third generation natural products refer to natural products produced by genetic bioengineering, a dynamic new field in natural products research.

Natural products provide unlimited opportunities for discovery of new potential pharmaceutical compounds.

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