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Hairy Drug Factories

Matthew 13:22: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”

We are all familiar with the fact that the very tips of most plant roots have tiny hairs. These hairs seek out water and nourishment from the soil and absorb them for distribution in the plant. Few people beyond some biologists and chemists are aware that these delicate portions of some plants are able to produce a large variety of important medicines. Often, the hairy parts of plant roots are able to make medicines that even our best chemists and genetic engineers cannot make.

The hairy roots of plants have been used to make certain medications for over two generations. But it was only recently that scientists discovered that by infecting seedlings with a certain bacterium, they could produce versions of plants that were nothing but hairy roots. Another benefit of this new procedure was that the hairy roots never stopped growing or making medicine.

Periwinkle hair roots make 75 different alkaloids, including caffeine, nicotine, and two medications important in cancer treatment. Antidotes for motion sickness and nerve gas poisoning are made by henbane roots. Gourd roots make important agricultural chemicals. Relatives of the Chinese cucumber make anti-fungus chemicals. And, as many gardeners know, marigold roots make chemicals that act against nematodes and fungus.

While human sin has made the creation less than perfect, our merciful Creator has, with foresight, provided solutions to many of our earthly problems.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have so generously provided us with solutions to so many of the problems we face because sin has ruined Your creation. Never let my earthly problems, or their solutions, distract me from my need for forgiveness of my sins through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Notes: Pennisi, Elizabeth. 1992. “Hairy harvest: bacteria turn roots into chemical factories.” Science News, Vol. 141, May 30, p. 366.

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