Ten years ago, a Virginia Tech-led team of chemists, conservationists, and botanists began work in Suriname to discover new drugs and to give the country reasons to preserve the biodiversity of its forests. Five years later, in 1998, they were screening two potential anticancer compounds, had discovered five rare plants, and had saved some of the country's tropical forest from wood harvesting. They also expanded their research to Madagascar and have discovered four additional potential anticancer compounds.

Now the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG), led by David G.I. Kingston of Blacksburg, Va., university distinguished professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech, has received a third five-year grant. A consortium of federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced 12 ICBG programs (www.nih.gov/news/pr/dec2003/fic-16.htm), which will total approximately $5 million per year over the next five years. The Fogarty International Center, which led development of the program in 1993, administers and supports the program with the co-sponsors.

Virginia Tech's partners in the third ICBG include the Missouri Botanical Garden, Conservation International, the Madagascar National Centers for Pharmaceutical Research, for Environmental Research, and for Oceanographic Research, the Eisai Pharmaceutical Research Institute, and Dow AgroSciences. In addition to tropical plants, the researchers will study marine organisms and microorganisms in Madagascar. "We've narrowed our scope geographically but broadened it scientifically," Kingston says.

Kingston said the four potential anticancer compounds, which were discovered by Virginia Tech graduate student Brent Yoder of Fort Wayne, In., from a Madagascar plant, are "potent" and "appear relatively easy to synthesize." They have been sent to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for further testing. Virginia Tech research scientist Shugeng Cao and chemistry graduate students Russell Williams of Dibble, Ok., and Eba Adou of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), in Kingston's group, have also submitted several compounds isolated from Suriname plants to the NCI, which will evaluate them in a 60-cell line panel. "If they find interesting patterns of activity, we will seek to synthesize analogs," Kingston said.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Botanical Garden has surveyed plants in the Zahamena National Park and created a guide to the ferns and is creating a guide to the woody plants. "This will attract a certain kind of tourist, providing an economic basis for preserving the park and it's biodiversity," says Kingston.

The other partners in the group met with villagers near the collection site and asked them what they needed. "Members of the group built a grain storage facility, which allows farmers to keep their grain until the market is favorable. We also renovated a primary school and provided text books and built a foot bridge over a river that was otherwise impassable in the rainy season." All of the projects were dedicated by the Madagascar Minister of the Environment in 2002. "They were well received, which was helpful when it came time to renew the grant," says Kingston.

Dr. Kingston can be reached at (540) 231-6570 or DKingston@vt.edu

He will be unavailable by phone from Dec. 24 until mid January, but will check his e-mail. His homepage is http://www.chemistry.vt.edu/chem-dept/kingston/kingston.htm

Additional contacts are:

Dr. James Miller
Missouri Botanical Garden, 314-577-9503 or JMiller@rschctr.mobot.org and at field sites in Madagascar

Dr. Olivier Langrand
Conservation International, 202-912-1392 or O.Langrand@conservation.org and at field sites in Madagascar

Dr. Rabodo Andriantsiferana
Centre National d'Application et des Recherches Pharmaceutiques, B. P. 702 Antananarivo 101, Madagascar
011-261-2-22-420-88 (Phone) 011-261-2-22-353-44 (FAX) E-Mail: vrasamis@syfed.refer.mg

Dr. Guy Rabarison
Centre National d'Application et des Recherches Pharmaceutiques, B. P. 702 Antananarivo 101, Madagascar
E-Mail: cnre@dts.mg and Centre National de Recherches Océanographiques, Nosy-Bé, Madagascar

Dr. Ted Suh
Eisai Research Institute, 4 Corporate Drive
Andover, MA 01810-2441
978-837-4653 ted_suh@eisai.com

Dr. Don Hahn
Dow Agrosciences, 9330 Zionsville Road
Indianapolis, Indiana 46268-1054
317-337-3169 drhahn@dow.com

Media wishing to talk to knowledgeable scientists who are not involved in this specific project might consider:

• Dr. Geoffrey A. Cordell, University of Illinois, Chicago, an expert in natural products chemistry and in biodiversity, 312-413-5381 or cordell@uic.edu

• Dr. Lester A. Mitscher, University of Kansas, natural product chemist, 785-864-4495 or lmitscher@ukans.edu

Contact: