Plants can’t flirt with pollinators
or outrun their enemies, but they have evolved complex chemical
strategies for survival. The Bioactive Natural Products Center
of Excellence wants to harness the power of these natural compounds
to control plant diseases and explore environmentally sound ways
to reduce weed and insect pests.
The center, funded in 2001, is already poised to market novel
uses of the herbaceous perennial Monarda, also known as bee balm
or Oswego tea. “The complex chemicals this plant produces
in its flowers and leaves have potential as antifungicidal agents.
We have applied for a patent for the use of Monarda as a delivery
system for bioactive compounds,” says Dr. Kimberly Gwinn,
acting science director for the center.
This compound is of potential interest to the multi-million-dollar
greenhouse and container plant industries in Tennessee. “Before
a plant leaves the greenhouse, it receives several fungicidal
applications. If we can reduce those, then we have done a good
thing for the environment and worker safety,” Gwinn says.
Monarda‘s volatile essential oils can also act as a weed
suppressant, says Mary Collins-Shepard, the center’s administrative
director. “We are working very hard to make use of the seed
money awarded to the center to develop proposals and marketing
strategies for bioactive products,” Collins-Shepard says.
For farmers, bioactive crops could help offset income lost through
reductions in the amount of tobacco they grow. Moreover, growing
and harvesting plants such as Monarda is less labor intensive
than many traditional crops and requires few, if any, applications
of pesticides. “We want to offer farmers and growers choices
and do as much as possible to help our environment,” Gwinn
The center collaborates with researchers at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory’s (ORNL) world-class Environmental Sciences and
Chemical Sciences divisions. “With ORNL, we are simulating
what bioactive agents would do in the environment. We don’t
want to release something that has a negative impact on the environment,”
Contact: Dr. Kimberly Gwinn, (865) 974-7135, email@example.com