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Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnology.
by James E. Robbers, Marilyn Kay Speedie and Varro E. Tyler. 1996. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore. Hardcover. 337 pp. $45.00. ISBN 0-683-08500-X. Available from ABC bookStore, #B008.

The publication of this book marks the passing of an era and the beginning of a new one. There have been nine previous editions of textbooks on pharmacognosy published by Lea & Febiger, beginning in 1921 with the first edition of Pharmacognosy by Heber W. Youngken. Subsequent editions were authored and edited by Edward P. Klaus and eventually taken over, beginning with the 6th edition, by Varro E. Tyler and eventually his colleagues, the late Lynn R. Brady and James E. Robbers, through the 9th edition in 1988 (which is now sadly out of print). With the publication of this new edition there would have been the 10th in this series.

However, with the addition of the second half of the title, Pharmacobiotechnology, the classic work of pharmacognosy (the science of drugs of natural origin, either from plant or animal) moves to a new level which includes the pharmacognostic basis for modern drugs but delves further into the recent breakthroughs in antibiotic research as well as biotechnologically derived pharmaceutical agents such as proteins and polypeptides, enzymes, and vaccines. The classic herbal drugs and plant-derived medicines (e.g., atropine, reserpine, colchicine, digoxin, physostigmine, etc.) are still included in the first two-thirds of this publication. The order of the chemical chapters are as follows: complex polysaccharides, glycosides, lipids, terpenoids, steroids, phenylpropanoids, alkaloids, and proteins and peptides. There is an additional extensive chapter on antibiotics and finally one on biologics and immunomodulators.

Additionally, many common ingredients found in the current herbal market are also included, such as rapeseed oil (canola), jojoba oil, and others in the chapter on lipids; echinacea and milk thistle in the chapter on phenylpropanoids; feverfew and ginkgo in the chapter on terpenoids, to name a few. Characteristic with the previous versions in this series, the chapters are arranged in order based on general chemical types, that is, after two introductory chapters on "Introduction to Pharmacognosy" and a second chapter introducing the new area of pharmacobiotechnology.

With the publication of this book, there is no longer an American-produced volume that deals strictly with pharmacognosy; if one wishes to find such, one must now take refuge in the excellent publication Pharmacognosy, by Trease and Evans, from England or the recently published extensive volume by Bruneton from France, Phytochemistry, Pharmacognosy, Medicinal Plants (both available from ABC).

One might think that with the current surge and interest in use of medicinal plants by the American public, as well as the incipient awakening of interest among health professionals at pharmacy and medical schools in the herbal and phytomedicine area, that a textbook dealing solely with the science of medicinal plants would be in order. Additionally, one might think that what is sometimes considered to be the relatively unsophisticated science of pharmacognosy might be out of place with some of the cutting edge science associated with pharmacobiotechnology.

The authors attempt to bridge this apparent contradiction in the first paragraph of the preface: "A book entitled Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnology might for some seem to be an unusual combination of terminology and disciplines. The logic behind this combination is that, on the one hand, pharmacognosy, the forerunner of all other scientific disciplines in pharmacy and which has its origins in ancient civilizations, deals with drugs produced by plants, animals, and microorganisms. It includes all drug agents produced through a biosynthetic process. On the other hand, pharmacobiotechnology involves the production of natural product drugs by application of the remarkable progress made in recent years in molecular biology. It is the newest frontier in providing innovative approaches in drug discovery and patient treatment. In essence, therefore, this book deals with both the oldest and the newest drugs, the common thread being that all are natural products."

Researchers of natural products, herbalists, book collectors, physicians, pharmacists, and others should welcome this publication as an integral part of any modern scientific herbal library.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal