Cancer Fighting Flora - Nature and Science



Growing naturally in the understory of the great pine forests of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) is among the slowest growing trees in the world. In the 1970s, the chemical compound, Taxol, was discovered in the bark of a Pacific Yew and determined to be a useful tool in the battle against cancer. However, due to its low concentration, it would take the bark of 40 mature trees to create enough Taxol to treat just one patient. Scientists went in search of a better solution and found the English Yew (Taxus baccata), which contains a similar compound, 10-deacetylbaccatin III, that can be synthesized to create Taxol. The compound in Taxus bacatta is found in the needles, rather than the bark, which means it can be harvested sustainably, without killing trees.

Sustainably synthesizing Taxol from the English Yew - instead of the Pacific Yew - is an excellent model for utilizing and preserving natural resources for the future.

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