New Crops News, Spring 1994, vol. 4 no. 1
So far, leaves from only one particular species of Ancistrocladus, a genus of about 15 species in west and central Africa and tropical Asia, contained this unusual dimeric alkaloid. The species was named A. korupensis by Duncan Thomas and Roy Gereau of the Missouri Botanical Garden after Korup Park, located in a tropical rainforest believed to be 60 million years old. Only a limited number of wild vines have been found to exist, and to preserve the plant only naturally fallen leaves, collected from the forest floor, have been gathered for analysis. The leaves of some samples have been shown to produce more than 2 to 3% (dry weight) of michellamine B.
A program to study the cultivation and production of Ancistrocladus in Cameroon has been funded by the National Cancer Institute under the leadership of James E. Simon of Purdues New Crops Center. A Center team which included scientists from the Missouri Botanical Garden and Oregon State University left for Cameroon on February 7, to initiate a three-year research effort. Jim Simon returned after two weeks, while Ben Alkire, horticulturist with Purdues New Crops Center, is spending three months in Mundemba, a small village just adjacent to the Korup National Park to set up research facilities. Team members are searching for new population of Ancistrocladus, and all wild vines are being screened to identify the richest source of michellamine B and other bioactive compounds. The research program is cooperative with Cameroon scientists, notably Professor Johnson Jato, the University of Yaounde, Faculty of Health Science and Faculty of Medicine, and Paul Symonds, World Wide Fund for Nature and Director, Korup National Park and Tomas Tomanjong Deputy Director of the Korup National Park Team.
Purdues New Crops Center will be establishing a germplasm collection and developing ways to domesticate and cultivate this tropical vine. This discovery of a plant that has the potential to cure AIDS underscores the need to preserve the biodiversity of tropical rainforests.