Alkaloids - Secrets Of Life

This book is intended to be a presentation of alkaloids from chemical, biological and ecological points of view. It is a text for chemists, biologists and ecologists alike. However, the intended audience of this work is not limited to scientists, teachers and other present and future specialists. In fact, I wrote this book because I felt the need for it as a university educator and as a scientific enthusiast on the subject. My purpose was to compose a beneficial text for an academic and professional audience that could also serve as a source of knowledge for anyone who is interested in the fascinating subject of alkaloids. As a subject, alkaloids represent a field of scientific investigation that attracts students and researchers from diverse academic disciplines and a large circle of professionals in clinical and university laboratories.

Alkaloids, the subject of this book, represent a group of very interesting and complex chemical compounds, produced by the secondary metabolism of living organisms in different biotopes. Alkaloids are relatively common chemicals in all kingdoms of living organisms in all environments. Two hundred years of scientific research has not yet fully explained the connections between alkaloids and life, nor has it explained why these diverse chemicals are produced and degraded by organisms, or why they have such a very large spectrum of biological activities. Alkaloids are the products of the life process, and their diversity is similar to the diversity of life on Earth. Therefore, they can be said to encapsulate the very secrets of life.

The literature on alkaloids is growing rapidly. Researchers are persistently attempting to decode the many secrets surrounding alkaloids. In June 2006, the Web of Science (WoS) database, produced by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), mentioned 11,066 research papers containing the keyword alkaloid. Each year hundreds of additional research papers are published on the subject. During a period of only 6 months (from January to June 2006), 302 papers were published in the scientific journals indexed by the ISI. Thus, the level of scientific research activity in connection to alkaloids is high internationally. Moreover, this activity is connected to the human aspiration and belief that drugs developed from alkaloids or by using natural models of these compounds could help in the search for future cures to serious diseases such as cancer or AIDS. Alkaloids also have the potential to improve human life and the economy through their applications in biotechnology, agriculture, food and research equipment industries. The more that is known about alkaloids, the more possibilities are made available.

Alkaloids have been a direct or indirect subject of many books and academic works from various scientific fields. Alkaloids - Secrets of Life presents actual knowledge of alkaloids from an interdisciplinary point of view. Not only do I present the subject, but I also approach some unresearched areas and several questions that persist in this fascinating field of research. Alkaloids - Secrets of Life consists of five chapters, the first of which presents recent knowledge of alkaloid distribution among species and environments. The second chapter discusses alkaloid chemistry in biosynthesis, models and other methodological considerations and basic techniques used. Biological signification is presented in the light of recent research in Chapter 3, and concerning recent applications of alkaloids in Chapter 4. Finally, Chapter 5 outlines the ecological role of alkaloids through a case study. Each chapter features an abstract. The last portion of this book includes appendices, which include a listing of alkaloids, plants containing alkaloids and some basic protocols of alkaloid analysis.

I would like to thank Mervi Hannele Kupari, Aki Juhani Leinonen, Veli-Pekka Pennanen, Minna Marika Sinkkonen and Gaelle Gabriel for their work in my laboratory. Pekka Piironen has participated actively in my research at the Botanical Garden of the University of Joensuu. Through their technical assistance, Kirsti Kyyronen and Ilkka Konttinen aided me in the process of preparing several diagrams. My special thanks are also due to Kaisa Mustonen, who participated in the preparation of the chemical diagrams and indices featured in this book. Dr Peter Lawson, Adam Lerch, Kathryn Lessey and Dr Greg Watson have reviewed the language of the manuscript. While writing this book, I have drawn on research and study experiences from 30 years, covering many thousand hours in different laboratories and libraries. On 17 December 1993, it was my honour to participate in the ceremony of awarding the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to Professor Arnold Brossi, the eminent authority on the chemistry of alkaloids and the use of natural products in medicine and molecular biology. I would like to thank all the professors, teachers and scientists from whom I have had the pleasure to learn during these years. The International Summer School on Legumes, held in 1990s by the Department of Biology (presently the Faculty of Biosciences) of the University of Joensuu, was a forum that discussed alkaloids from many different points of view by experienced and young scientists from various countries and laboratories. I extend my sincere thanks to everyone for these fruitful years of study, cooperation and life.

Tadeusz Aniszewski Midsummer white night Juhannus Day, 24 June 2006

CHAPTER 1

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