Virginia Tech-led group receives third five-year international biodiversity grant

December 19, 2003

(Blacksburg, Va.) - Ten years ago, a Virginia Tech-led team of chemists, conservationists, and botanists began to work in Suriname to discover new drugs and to give the country reasons to preserve the biodiversity of its forests. Five years later, in 1998, they were screening two potential anticancer compounds, had discovered five rare plants, and had saved some of the country's tropical forest from wood harvesting. They also expanded their research to Madagascar and have discovered four additional potential anticancer compounds.

Now the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG), led by David G.I. Kingston of Blacksburg, Va., University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Tech, has received a third five-year grant. A consortium of Federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced 12 ICBG programs (www.nih.gov/news/pr/dec2003/fic-16.htm), which will total approximately $5 million per year over the next five years. The Fogarty International Center, which led development of the program in 1993, administers and supports the program with the co-sponsors.

Virginia Tech's partners in the third ICBG include the Missouri Botanical Garden, Conservation International, the Madagascar National Centers for Pharmaceutical Research, for Environmental Research, and for Oceanographic Research, the Eisai Pharmaceutical Research Institute, and Dow AgroSciences. In addition to tropical plants, the researchers will study marine organisms and microorganisms in Madagascar. "We've narrowed our scope geographically but broadened it scientifically," Kingston says.

Kingston said the four potential anticancer compounds, which were discovered by Virginia Tech graduate student Brent Yoder of Fort Wayne, In., from a Madagascar plant, are "potent" and "appear relatively easy to synthesize." They have been sent to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for further testing. Virginia Tech research scientist Shugeng Cao and chemistry graduate students Russell Williams, of Dibble, Ok. and Eba Adou, of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in Kingston's group, have also submitted several compounds isolated from Suriname plants to the NCI, which will evaluate them in a 60-cell line panel. "If they find interesting patterns of activity, we will seek to synthesize analogs," Kingston said.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Botanical Garden has surveyed plants in the Zahamena National Park and created a guide to the ferns and is creating a guide to the woody plants. "This will attract a certain kind of tourists, providing an economic basis for preserving the park and it's biodiversity," says Kingston.

The other partners in the group met with villagers near the collection site and asked them what they needed. "Members of the group built a grain storage facility, which allows farmers to keep their grain until the market is favorable. We also renovated a primary school and provided text books and built a foot bridge over a river that was otherwise impassable in the rainy season." All of the projects were dedicated by the Madagascar Minister of the Environment in 2002. "They were well received, which was helpful when it came time to renew the grant," says Kingston.
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Virginia Tech

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