Could Maine forests help address shortages of flu-fighting drugs?
University of Maine researchers have found that the needles of several conifers, including Maine’s state tree — the white pine — have the ability to store the starter molecule for the drug Tamiflu.
All plants and bacteria produce shikimic acid, which is a key compound in the synthesis of drugs such as Tamiflu. However, the researchers, led by UMaine Ph.D. candidate Nilmini Gedivinne and chemistry professors Raymond Fort and Barbara Cole, discovered several species of Maine trees store shikimic acid in higher concentrations — and for longer periods of time.
The scientists’ next challenge is refining the extraction technique to garner large amounts of shikimic acid from pine needles. Progress on that front could open up a whole new arena for Maine’s timber industry.