There’s a need for new molecules to study for treating psychiatric disorders
and alleviating pain
One place to look for new therapeutic compounds are plant-based remedies
from traditional medicine
In the Polynesian islands, people have made a beverage from the root of the kava plant
for thousands of years
People report the drink reduces anxiety and pain without addictive properties.
Tomáš Pluskal, a postdoctoral researcher in Jing-Ke Weng's lab
at Whitehead Institute,
led a study that identified the genes that kava uses to make
its cocktail of medicinal chemicals.
Kava is related to pepper plants, but the researchers found a set of genes
that evolved recently
and allow the plant to produce a diverse array of psychoactive compounds
from simpler precursor molecules.
These findings open the way for scientists to produce large amounts of the compounds
to study their effects
and investigate whether they can treat anxiety, pain, and other conditions.