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Natural products chemistry in the third millennium

DOI: 10.1186/1752-153x-1-1

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In the beginning of organic chemistry was natural products chemistry. For a long period, up to the 1960's the structural studies of natural products served as the principle driving force for the discovery of new chemical reactivity. The introduction of spectroscopic techniques, however, removed much of the "intellectual challenge" involved in structure elucidation. Furthermore, natural products chemistry suffered a dramatic decline from the mid 1990's when major pharmaceutical companies disinvested in this area and switched to more "rational" combi-chem approaches. Nevertheless, the improvements in spectroscopic methods have historically stimulated natural products chemistry and the efforts to examine new compounds from unusual organisms rapidly and systematically. Natural products chemistry survived and began to flourish again in recent years also through chemical biology and chemical genetics and the realization that natural product structures often explore structural space unavailable to combi-chem approaches. As a result, challenges for natural product chemists are not diminishing, they are just changing. Natural product chemistry turned to an interdisciplinary science, where the success of a chemist would only be possible in close collaboration with biologists, pharmacologists, and clinicists. Thus many novel biological activities - such as beta-tubulin assembly inhibitors for example, could only have emerged from the natural products arena.Combined with pharmacological screening, natural products chemistry has always provided highly useful leads for drug discovery. The searches for new biologically active compounds are most often based on hints coming from ethnobotany but there are still a huge number of unstudied plants, not to speak of mushrooms, marine organisms, insects, and microorganisms. There is a wealth of molecular diversity out there, waiting to be discovered and utilized. The central issue of such type of studies, structure elucidation, although of


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