Canadian Forest Service Publications
Natural Products Research. 2011. Abou-Zaid, M. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Frontline Express 47. 2p
Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre
Catalog ID: 32348
Availability: PDF (download)
Canada’s forests are often valued economically in terms of conventional products such as lumber and pulp. However, forests can be viewed more broadly as “factories” that produce rich sources of raw materials from living and dead trees, shrubs and other plants, using sunlight, CO2 and water. The forest industry is exploring ways to make use of different sustainably produced raw materials found in forests to produce renewable, recyclable and environmentally friendly goods and products. Such materials can take the form of naturally occurring chemical (biochemical) or physical components (e.g., cellulose) in plants, and can be extracted from plant material or by-products of the pulping process. Biochemicals are produced by plants in response to environmental stresses such as insect or microbial infestations. It is estimated that almost 2% of the carbon photosynthesized by plants is converted by the plant into biochemicals. In trees, the compounds are present in the needles, leaves, roots, bark, compression wood, and knots. The pharmaceutical industry has successfully developed many biochemical based drugs from tree extracts, including acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin) from willow (Salix spp.) and paclitaxel (Taxol) from yew (Taxus spp.). An estimated 70% of the drugs in the marketplace today come from either plants or plant sources. There is an increased interest in natural products from plants for their purported health benefits, and because they are derived from renewable sources. An example comes from the discovery of large amounts of hydroxymatairesinol in the knots of Norway spruce (Picea abies) that resulted in a bioproduct now manufactured as HMRlignan, which has similar properties to flax lignans, a popular commodity in the natural health products marketplace. The discovery of such compounds is a painstaking process of extraction, testing and eventual commercialization that takes many years and requires a large investment. Such research is typically multidisciplinary, bringing together expertise in plant chemistry, forest management, and medical science. The Great Lakes Forestry Centre role in this process is at the stage of isolating promising biochemical compounds from plants.