8th February 1975. The Stuff of Life or Death!

The alkaloids distinguished by a bitter taste, are groups of nitrogen producing basic compounds found in plants, many of which are medicinal such as morphine and quinine, the poisonous strychnine and coniine (hemlock) and recreational caffeine, nicotine and LSD.

Morphine is the most abundant opiate found in opium.

Morphine is the most abundant opiate found in opium. Picture of opium poppy head. Pic. ref. below.

Some are best avoided by domesticated animals which have not developed defensive mechanisms. Groundsel has the alkaloid senecionine, which causes many livestock fatalities when eaten.

One English pioneer known for his work on alkaloids and the discovery of the molecular structures of morphine, was Nobel Laureate, Sir Robert Robinson, who died Today in 1975.(1)

The maintaining of normal physiological functions in an organism are dependent on Metabolites which are the intermediate products of Metabolism. They are catalyzed (speeded up chemical reaction) by various enzymes (proteins) in bodily cells.(2)

Primary metabolites (3) are vital for life, therefore not toxic. They are energy rich fuel molecules such as sucrose, starch and the structural components of for example cellulose and information molecules such as DNA or RNA and the plant pigment chlorophyll. Some of the primary metabolites are precursors or starters for the synthesis of secondary metabolites.

Microbiological production of Primary Metabolites are directly involved in growth, development and reproduction of organisms through micro-organisms growing on fermentation of carbon sources and sugars etc.

In the process they produce alcohol, amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine, lysine, glutamic and aspartic acid, nucleotides, organic acids (lactic and acetic acids), and vitamins.(4)

Some antibiotics use tryptophan to create for example, actinomycin.

Alkaloid compounds are found in 20% of plants and constitute a class of molecular, secondary metabolites. They are concerned with ecological functions as antibodies, and pigments such as chlorophyll used in plant photosynthesis.

These are specific to plants and act as pollinators, pathogens and defence against herbivores. The most important are the antibiotics such as erythromycin.

(1a) Robinson also discovered the molecular structure for penicillin.

(1b) The other two classes of secondary metabolites are terpenoids and phenolics, but as many primary metabolites are found in these classes, their distinction is not based on chemical structure, but rather in their function and distribution in plants.

(2a) Metabolism, from the Greek for ‘change’, relates to the life-sustaining chemical transformation in cells. It results from enzyme-catalyzed reactions which allow organisms to grow, reproduce, maintains structure and respond to environment.

(2b) Metabolic pathways result when a chemical is transformed, by a series of steps, into another. Alkaloid biosynthetic pathways are long and complex.

(3) Alcohol is in the primary class with an example being ethanol which is produced in large scale industrial microbiology.

(4) Nucleotides are biological molecules which form building blocks of nucleic acids (DNA/RNA) which serve to carry cell energy (ATP).

Ref: wikipedia.org/metabolism.

Ref: Applied molecular genetics of filamentous fungi: James R Kinghorn.

Ref: ebooks.Cambridge.org.

Ref: lifeofplants.blogspot.co.uk.

Ref: chemplants re metabolites.

Ref: Wilson and chlorophyll SA Kinnier Wilson 1878-1937.

Ref: Pic. Ref. wikipedia.org/morphine.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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