Team:Wageningen UR/Secondary metabolites


Secondary metabolites

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Natural Products

Secondary metabolites are the products of metabolism not essential for normal growth, development or reproduction of an organism. They meet the secondary requirements of the producing organisms, empower them to survive interspecies competition, provide defensive mechanisms and facilitate reproductive processes. Well known sources of secondary metabolites are plants, bacteria, fungi and marine organisms such as sponges, tunicates, corals and snails.

Well-known Medical Uses

Secondary metabolites are well-known as antimicrobials. Currently, many secondary metabolites have been proven to be effective as antibacterial or antifungal agents, anticancer drugs, cholesterol-lowering agents, immunosuppressants, antiparasitic agents, herbicides, diagnostics, and even tools for other researches.

Cholesterol-lowering agents

Compactin was first reported as a cholesterol-lowering drug by Endo in 1985. The fungal fermentation products lovastatin produced by Aspergillus terreus and Monascus ruber was found to be highly effective in reducing serum cholesterol in humans, especially cholesterol LDL levels. Lovastatin is a potent inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase and blocks formation of all products of the mammalian polyisoprenoid pathway, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Extensive Applications

Exploiting the therapeutic potential of fungi

In addition to their known roles in combating disease, secondary metabolites reveal surprising additional activities, which may be possible solutions to other treatment lacking diseases. Many antibiotics, bacterial pigments and plant terpenoids, are also found to have anti-HIV, antitumor, anti-ageing, immunosuppressant, antiprotozoal and antihelminth activities, thus exhibiting multifarious applications in the sphere of medicine.

Unraveling the novel applications of known secondary metabolites and exploiting a myriad of sources as microbes, plants and higher animals for screening new secondary metabolites are paving the way to treat “untreatable diseases”, and help reduce mortality rates. The study of those useful activities of secondary metabolites against life-threatening diseases may catalyze further efforts to apply them against other forms of human disease.