Potential Biotechnological Applications of Pacific Northwest Flora 1988
A summary of this paper was presented at the Geography Colloquium, sponsored by the Geography Department at Portland State University, on January 17th, 1988.
This paper and my association with this department have a unique history. The professor who planned the Colloquium series at the time I approached the department about this topic would later become my primary advisor as a graduate student in that department nearly ten years later (Martha Works, 1997). The score I gave myself for this talk was mediocre at best, but it made its point apparently, for it defined my career potentials for the next twenty years of my life.
This presentation was presented as part of a weekly series held by the Geography Department at Portland State University as part of the department’s activities and curriculum. Students would attend these presentations and write a review of three of the 10 or 12 given for one or two credits. This course was provided to fill in that remaining 1 or 2 credits you needed to be registered full time.
In some ways this paper represents insights into many of the industries that would later develop in the Pacific Northwest. This same material I would later review to in a local new/talkshow hosted by Jack Faust, who referred to me as a “modernist” throughout his show. My most famous moment that day was my prediction that bioengineering would be used to produce the next products for the food industry, namely an oil from a mustard plant grown in large amounts up in British Columbia. This was in reference to the up and coming invention of an edible rapeseed oil. At that show, I also talked with several professors trying to bioengineer products from the local flora, but none were interested in the application of this technology to the drug manufacturing industry. Ultimately, this led me to pursue opportunities in several other directions, including work as a consultant for the stock market investment industry.
I defined the goal of my presentation tat Portland State University with the following four research questions that I posed at its beginning:
- How do we apply plants to the field of Biotechnology?
- Why is the Pacific Northwest flora different from that of any other region of the United States?
- Are there any new and undiscovered potentials, and if so how do we find them?
- How would these new discoveries be of benefit to the Northwest in its socioeconomic growth?
I then told those attending this talk an interesting story as to why I was there presenting the topic of bioengineering Pacific Northwest natural products. The story is as follows.
The History leading up my composing this paper and these research questions
At the time, the primary natural resource industries in the Pacific Northwest were the lumber and paper industries. Due to significant deforestation practices, and the very noticeable changes in local ecology that had taken place due to overharvesting, local businesses were beginning to reduce in number, and the primary income source for many local rural families were losing their jobs. Attempts were made to revive other parts of the local natural resource industry, but none of these dealt with the other products out there in the local forest settings.
One day, while driving from Portland to the Pacific shores in and around Haystack Rock, while passing through the coastal range, I saw these very large fires burning atop the mountains. I asked the individual I was with why there were so many of these large fires in the wilderness? weren’t they afraid of burning the rest of their forests down?
She told me they set those fires to burn the scrap piles that were left following the debarking of trees and clearing the area of other trees that got in the way.
I asked her, ‘does this include the local yew trees?’
To which she answered ‘yes.’
I then told her about the studies going on within the pharmaceutical industries active on the East Coast. The yew trees they were burning to me represented a significant loss in natural resource-linked economic potential. That following week, I began drafting this essay on my Sanyo MBC 550 PC, and a few weeks later began contacting the university and local television stations about this. I even went to a local big Stock Market company and met with one of its chief investment managers, in order to discuss the role and place of bioengineering in the current chemical and drug industry. He told me these were companies he needed to know about due to people inquiring about investing in these companies on the side. That provided me with a little bit of employment time during the winter of 1987 to 1988. I contacted the local grad school devoted to the manufacturing of wood products via the use of Agrobacterium, but their chief researcher said it was only important and most cost effective if and when applied to the manufacturing of paper pulp substitutes. (He later left his research position due to lack of progress.)
Research Products for the Stock Industry
Dwayne Hubbard was my connection to the stock market industry and bioengineering in 1987/8. During the prior winter, I had researched these companies with hope of finding work. A California bioengineering company was about to come out with its famous frost-preventing bacterial spray for Strawberry plants (which it sprayed on its crops one year, against federal policies at the time.) This was one of the six companies then actively engaged in bioengineering plant products. When I reviewed their production plans and proposed methodologies, I was able to filter out the good from the bad, and the pseudo-science from the true science. Some of these processes were not easy to complete, and some with the methods defined seemed very impossible, against the basic natural laws of science.
During those months I repeatedly went back to the trade magazines for food, drugs and cosmetics and with that information developed a number of plans on the potential use of Pacific Northwest products for local natural resource cottage industry development. This resulting in the following ideas I hoped to see developed further. I included them in my Geography presentation, but they never seemed to develop any further. Nevertheless, this talk led to my lab and teaching position, as a result of which I studied, evaluated and accomplished the following, all presented at the annual meetings for the Oregon Academy of Sciences between 1990 and 1993:
- the local berberine alkaloid producers for chelerythrines, sanguinarine, and other cancer drugs,
- the local Achlys for potential podophyllotoxin cancer drug content (it ended up having just coumarins),
- the local Thalictrum and Calocedrus species for the same
- the local herbal medicines of high popularity, especially the local ginseng equivalent Devil’s Club (Oplopanax sp.)
The Impacts of this Presentation on the local Natural Resource Economy
My presentation on this topic was attended by about 50 people. Due to the size of the room, it was pretty much standing room only. By the time the lecture was over, I was offered a laboratory for research use by the Chemistry Department, by Prof. Al Levinson. His specialty natural products chemistry. He specialized in terpenes (mono to penta) and initiated research on the cause for pulmonary hypersensitivity and edema cases common to the region. This was an very localized occupational disease experienced mostly be tree climbers of the local lumber industries. We later related this to a sesquiterpene lactone known as frullanioside produced by the liverworts (Frullania spp.) that resided only on old growth forests tree bark of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga sp.).
In the back row of the room I presented in that day was an employee from the Oregon Forestry Service Division. One and half to two years later, I bumped into him again, and he mentioned the talk I gave, telling me that soon after attending this presentation, he went to the Forestry Service and made recommendations that they look into possible licensing and generating an income source for the local yew tree for its cancer drug. Two years later, the licensing and permit system required for this program were in full operation, and some black marketing of the taxus bark for its taxol began to hit the local news by 1992/3.
This talk also led to the establishment of a graduate program given by a local Pacific Northwest college Sociology/Anthropology Department. It was devoted to the research of local anthropology and ethnobotany and played a major role in establishing the local natural products industry consortium and forestry service-academic grant sponsored Pacific Northwest Natural Products related Student Research Grant and Scholarship programs.
With regards to my paper on the potential applications of bioengineering to Pacific Northwest natural products, and the popularity of natural herbal medicines in general, the following items which I referred as potential products for the future have since developed into true bioengineering based plant natural resource markets:
- The production of a LEAR oil industry from Brassica rapa seed oil (rapeseed oil, referred to by its industry as Canola/TM).
- The application of Agrobacterium tumefaciens to the production of taxol using the local yew tree.
- The increased popularity in the local ginseng equivalent, Oplopanax, resulting in overharvesting and the need for licensure of natural resource harvesting companies (which I was the leader for, 1990)
- The development of Pacific Northwest Rainforest products conservation program due to overharvesting and the rapidly growing local natural resources movement
I also mentioned quite a few other natural products with significant income potential. Some of these were never brought to the marketplace. Some due to the bioengineering or chemical production process. Others due to lack of interest and popularity of their potential end products:
- the cancer drugs related to thalicarpine and analogs in the local Thalictrum species
- the cancer drug desoxy-etoposide contained in the local Calocedrus (Libocedrus) decurrens or Incense Cedar tree native to old growth forests.
- a number of herbal medicine industries, with or without bioengineering, including valerian to be domesticated or bioengineered for its valepotriates, the local mistletoe plant Arceuthobium for its very unique cetaceous leaf wax components, and domestication or industrialization of endangered, wild crafted herbal medicine products.
The following is this article/essay. Please note that it was written 25 years ago, back when this industry was not even in its infancy. The article, composed with the help of Joseph Evangelista, seems a bit flowery at times, lengthy other times. Nevertheless, it was well ahead of its time and due to its presentation accounted for my career states for the next twenty years of my life as an academician, researcher, writer, premed-prepharm-precompmed student advisor, and a university lecturer and lab assistant working several departments. The materials presented with the presentation were very much ahead of the time.
In the late winter of February or March of 1990, I gave a talk in Salem, Oregon that later led to the development of the permit and licensure system. This was requested by the Pacific Northwest Natural Resources Industry Association or Consortium. During this presentation I presented 50 examples of local plant chemical products currently being harvested, or in the process of being researched for potential food, drug, medicine, soap and cosmetic industry use. When I find these papers they will be included here as well.