Pacific Yew and Taxol etc.

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by Aussiebob, Oct 4, 2006.

  1. Aussiebob

    Aussiebob Active Member

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    Here's one for someone who is a few more rungs up the IQ ladder than I am....I thought this would be a good place to throw something like this out. I'm not a doctor and I don't understand the technicalities of chemistry or disease much at all. I'm also not a historian - so I wouldn't even know where to start looking for the history of cancer etc. Although I have looked around the web a little over the last few months.

    TAXOL - the anti cancer compound has been found in a number of trees (Pacific Yew, Wollomi Pine etc). We all know than Cancer is a brutal blight on society/mankind that continues to scar individuals and families with no disctinction of wealth, colour, creed etc.

    Pacific Yew's are native to the Pacific Nth West......They are a big tree and one must think that when the original first nations (Native Indians) peoples as well as the early european settlers lived in this area - they literally lived amongst these great trees. The tree and consequently TAXOL was probably part of their daily life - whether they ingested parts of the plants, breathed it's vapours, made tools etc from it's wood/leaves, drank water from streams that were in proximity to the tree etc etc etc. Although probably not a designed part of their daily lives, it stands to reason that TAXOL was in their daily environment.

    My thought being.....were the people who lived years ago amongst these trees (or possibly live and work among these trees nowadays) resistant to cancer?

    Just a thought and some links.

    http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_1/taxus/brevifolia.htm

    http://www.pfc.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/ecology/yew/taxol_e.html


    Cheers
     
  2. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Well, taxol is very rare and only present in very low concentrations:

    See [WIKI]taxol[/WIKI] on Wikipedia.

    I don't see something in that low concentration conferring any resistance to the peoples who lived among these trees.
     
  3. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    It also isn't volatile, so it wouldn't be present in the air around the trees. You'd have to eat them to get any, and as there are other poisons in Taxus foliage, that isn't a good idea.

    The native people in the region probably had low cancer rates, but for other reasons: healthy natural food, plenty of exercise, no smoking (apart from the occasional ceremonial peace pipe), no pesticides, etc., etc. And also (on the down side) shorter longevity due to warfare, dangerous animals, etc, thereby giving less old age in which to develop slow-forming cancers.
     
  4. petauridae

    petauridae Active Member

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    Taxol is a diterpene. Terpenes are a type of secondary metabolite. Primary metabolites are things like sugars, nucleic acids (such as DNA), and amino acids. Secondary metabolites are often used as taxonomic markers and may or may not have any known function to the plant. A diterpene has 20 carbons in the main skeletal portion. The prefix di comes from the fact that monoterpenes have 10 carbons in their main skeletal portion. You are probably familar with monoterpenes, particularly if you clean your house with Pine-Sol. What makes that piney smell are various somewhat volatile monoterpenes such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene.

    Taxol functions as an antimitotic, meaning that it stops cells from dividing (in mitosis). It does so by hyperpolymerization (overpolymerization) of the protein tubulin which makes up the microtubules (a type of celluar skeleton) that function in pulling the chromosomes apart. From what I understand it is found in other Taxus species, it is just that some Taxus brevifolia were collected near Packwood, WA (itself near Mt. Rainier) and paclitaxel (the 'original' name from Taxol) was isolated from it. In order to get enough for medicinal use, a similar chemical compound from Taxus baccata (which can be farmed) can be isolated and from which Taxol can be synthesized. (I'm not sure if is occurring yet, though).

    I do recall reading somewhere that Taxus brevifolia was listed as a treatment for 'cancer' among native people but I don't think that this is cancer as we know it today. It was also listed as having other medicinal purposes which the links above also touched on. The bit about native women using it to remove underarm hair is interesting, because there are a lot of blood vessels close to the skin there. A lymph node is in the area too, and these are often removed when breast cancer strikes a woman hard. I should probably dig around in my notes from grad school to see what else I can find on this subject.
     
  5. David in L A

    David in L A Active Member 10 Years

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    The taxine would kill you long before got a significant dose of taxol.
     
  6. petauridae

    petauridae Active Member

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