Why Plants?


Plants are astonishing natural chemical factories. These amazing organisms are not only responsible for the existence of modern pharmaceuticals, but they also supply a kaleidoscope of flavor to our food, protect our skin from the weather, fuel our machines, and supply rubber for their wheels. Yet, only a microscopic fraction of the approximately half-million plant species growing on our planet has had its chemistry studied. Nevertheless, we know that every plant species can produce dozens of different chemical compounds, which suggest that the total number of natural chemicals produced by plants could be an “8-figure” number (billions).  The vast diversity of plant chemical compounds combined with the rarity of biological activity insinuates that the likelihood of finding the next medicine, organic pesticide, or delicious spice will be similar to that of winning the lottery. Nevertheless, most of these compounds are not there by chance, they are the results of millions of years of evolution. Consequently, understanding why and how these compounds evolve can help us to identify the next useful chemical compounds.