New Worlds: From carnivorous plants to the medicine cabinet?

The idea that liquid from a plant pitcher could stave off infection has been documented in the folk literature of India.

Carnivorous plants are a boon to mankind because they devour pestyinsects such as beetles, ants and flies that they lure into stickycavities called “pitchers.” But now, according to Tel Aviv Universityscientists, it seems these self-feeding plants could also serve as thebasis of a new class of anti-fungal drugs. Until now, no one hasdiscussed the anti-fungal metabolites found in the trap liquid of theseplants, which produce it in a gland.
Carnivorous plants possess a highly developed set of compounds andsecondary metabolites to aid in their survival. When the insect victimsfall into a pitcher, the plant’s enzymes are activated and begindissolving their new meal, obtaining nutrients such as carbon andnitrogen which are difficult to extract from certain soils. Accordingto Prof. Aviah Zilberstein of TAU’s department of plant sciences,compounds produced by the carnivorous plants “act as naturalanti-fungal agents. In the tropics, competition for food is fierce, andthe hot, moist environment is perfect for fungi, which would also loveto eat the plant’s insect meal.”
The idea that liquid from a plant pitcher could stave off infection hasbeen documented in the folk literature of India, where people drinksuch liquids as an elixir. “There is a lot of room for developingcompounds from nature into new drugs,” says Zilberstein. “The one weare working on is not toxic to humans. Now we hope to show how thisvery natural product can be further developed as a means to overcomesome basic problems in hospitals.” The team has just published a paperexploring that potential in the Journal of Experimental Biology, basedon the biology of the carnivorous plant Nepenthes khasiana. Thisspecies, originally found in India, is also being cultivated in TAUgreenhouses.
In a study conducted by Zilberstein, Dr. Haviva Eilenberg from her laband Prof. Esther Segal from Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Prof.Shmuel Carmeli from TAU’s school of chemistry, the unusual componentsfrom the plants’ pitchers were found effective as anti-fungal drugsagainst human fungal infections that are widespread in hospitals. Theprimary results are encouraging, the team says. After initial tests ofthe plant proteins and enzymes that dissolve the chitin (a polymerfound in the outer skeleton of insects and also found in other low lifeforms) of fungi, Zilberstein assumes that – in the right clinicalconditions – the pitcher’s secondary metabolites could be turned intoeffective anti-fungal drugs that avoid the evolution of  resistantstrains of microorganisms.
The technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem –Yissum Research Development Company Ltd. – has introduced a novelmethod for recording and analyzing how people move around. The novelsystem monitors people’s movements and use of open space to provideaccurate data for use in healthcare, urban planning, retail yieldmanagement, law enforcement and tourism management. The technology wasdeveloped by Dr. Noam Shoval and Michal Isaacson, of HU’s geographydepartment.
Since behavior is very unpredictable, data on how people move around inamusement parks, national parks and other tourist venues often comesfrom subjective human testimony. Costly mistakes in planning such sitesare usually detected only after the project is complete. There thusexists a need for an accurate, objective system that monitors howpeople actually behave.
The system uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology forrecording the location of people for the desired period of time. Duringthe tracking period, participants are required to carry a small GPSunit. The tracking data is then analyzed using a proprietary time/spaceanalysis engine to derive a map indicating the routes taken by eachparticipant and the length of time spent in each location. The dataobtained can be analyzed in real time, creating virtual “radar” ofvisitor activity throughout a destination.
The system was recently assessed at Spain’s PortAventura theme park.One of the interesting outcomes was that the tracking and analysissystem revealed that people of different nationalities behavedifferently.
“Urban tourism is a growing sector with profound effects on the city'slayout and economy. This system is an extremely sensitive tool fortourist activity segmentation,” says Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin. “Itprovides important information that is impossible to gather intraditional ways, such as locating areas that are under-visited bytourists, and determining the effects of time, weather and a multitudeof other parameters on tourist activity.”
The tracking and analyzing system may also have far-reaching medicalapplications. In collaboration with Hadassah University Medical Centerorthopedic surgeon Dr. Yair Barzilay, a system has been developed fordetecting the mobility of patients after surgery as an objectivemeasure for their recovery. Patients carry a GPS unit after theoperation, and future development will integrate additional sensorsthat will allow the combination of GPS data with physiological datasuch as heart rate and blood pressure.