Mumbai (AsiaNews) - A few months ago, scientists from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore had made a startling finding – they had scanned through 210 plant species in the Western Ghats and discovered seven that yielded high amounts of shikimic acid, a vital ingredient for Tamiflu. The name of the acid comes from the Japanese shikimi, the star anise from which the acid had been extracted the first time.
Last week the scientists, with a commercial partner, had been started trials to ascertain whether the quantity and quality of the shikimic acid obtainable from the leaves of these plants is commercially and economically viable to compete with the one at present produced in China.
Currently the majority of the acid need is met by China and it is extracted from the fruits of the Chinese star anise tree, but six years are needed for the tree to produce the fruit, while the Indian method to obtain the acid from the leaves can be quicker. The fruits of the Chinese anise tree contains up to 5% of the acid. The Indian scientists have yielded 5.02% of the acid from a plant species called Araucaria Excelsa and other six species.
The significant advantage of the newly identified Indian source is that the acid was extracted from leaves and not from fruits and the plants that produce it can be domesticated and farmed. Therefore the trees will not face extinction even if used in large scale.
The principal investigator Dr Ramanam Uma Shaanker said that all seven plants had been discovered in the wild but all of them can be cultivated outside forest land. Hundred kg of raw material of three different species had been provided to the industrial partner that will start the experiment for commercial production hoping that the quality of the acid will be as good as the Chinese one and possibly cheaper.
An alternative source of the acid would not only bring down its price but also insure its constant availability since the demand has increased a lot with pandemic of H1N1.
The Western Ghats that is one of the ten most famous sites of biodiversity could soon hold the answer to the world’s spiraling demand for Tamiflu.