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Pitcher plants could be source of anti-fungal medicine

By James Robertson

Carnivorous plants have developed a unique way to get the nutrients they need from sources other than soil.  Now researchers have found the plants also developed a way to protect their access to those nutrients that could have an impact on medicine.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University tested the liquid from inside the carnivorous pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana, and found the liquid contained compounds that fought off fungi, protecting against competition for nutrients gained through digesting insects by breaking down the fungi’s chitinous protection. Also found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans, chitin is a substance that gives fungi structural support.

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NGS Photo by Paul Zahl

Since certain folk remedies in India involve drinking the pitcher plant juice, the researchers say the plant is not toxic to humans and therefore can be developed into medicines to treat fungal infections that are common in hospitals and kill thousands of people in the U.S. a year.

The researchers also say the medicine could combat many strains of fungi, making it effective against even medication-resistant strains.  And, it’s 100 percent organic!

“There is a lot of room for developing compounds from nature into new drugs,” said Aviah Zilberstein, an author of the study, in a statement.

To learn more about carnivorous plants, check out this month’s story in National Geographic.