Systematic approaches of herbgenomics to investigate the molecular genetics of medicinal plants
Medicinal plants synthesize a huge repertoire of specialized compounds as protective metabolites when they are confronted with complex abiotic and biotic conditions. Humans have used medicinal plants to treat ailments and maintain health throughout civilization. Paleontological studies have shown that the application of medicinal plants, such as Ephedra altissima and Centaurea solstitialis, could be dated back to 60,000 years ago, since their fossils were found in the tomb of prehistoric Neanderthals. Historically, traditional herbal medicine systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine, and traditional Malay medicine, are considered as the main natural healthcare systems across the globe. The prescription formulas of these systems, which consist of a combination of herbs mixed proportionally according to their effects, are still widely consumed in allopathic and alternative medicine systems. In as early as the ninth century, advanced technologies of chemical isolation and pharmacological tests contributed to the development of modern phytochemical compounds. Numerous plant natural products discovered by western and eastern scientists, including artemisinin, aspirin, atropine, camptothecin, codeine, digoxigenin, ephedrine, morphine, podophyllotoxin, vinblastine, and taxol, have been clinically applied as therapeutic agents. However, intractable concentrations as well as limited or uneven quality of herb resources often restrict the exploitation of their pharmaceutical potentials and clinical applications.