Humans like to assume everything is made for human use. Consider the following list of drugs:
These drugs that we think of as antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, hallucinogens, painkillers, etc. are actually chemicals produced in nature for completely non-human related uses. For millennia, bacteria, plants, fungi have been making drug-like molecules for their own purposes. So what are their natural functions in the environment? For the most part, we don’t really know.
We will show you why organisms make molecules that so often end up in the clinic. The why of natural products is explained through the science of chemical ecology.
The field of chemical ecology seeks to understand how organisms mediate interactions through space and time with both their abiotic environment and other organisms using chemicals. We’ll define chemicals here as small molecules, which we think excludes large biomolecules like DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and proteins. Other words we might use to refer to chemicals are natural products, molecules, compounds, and secondary metabolites.
In the search to understand these interactions, chemical ecologists will discover new bioactive molecules and the mechanisms through which molecules have their biological effects. In this way, chemical ecology can be an explanatory science, an especially useful attribute in today’s world of big data that often collects massive amounts of information but fails to connect the information to a mechanistic understanding.
Finally, chemical ecology is especially relevant today as we try to engineer nature to suit our needs as well as save fragile ecosystems that have been negatively affected by modern life.
Hopefully this blog will provide you with cool information and “chemical intuition” that you’ll enjoy and share with your friends.
- AMC, CAB, KLS