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Traditional Medicine and Biotechnology
Traditional medicine or alternate medicine, as known today, can be defined as the knowledge acquired for treatment of various mental and physical health, through many generations and from different societies. Since time immemorial man and animals have relied on Mother Nature for remedies to various ailments. Nature seem to have provided the requirements in its bountiful diversity that makes this world sustainable. There are written texts or knowledge about the use of plants as medicine. Ancient Indian and Chinese texts have listed a number of species of plants and animals that in some capacity, has medicinal properties. Chinese have a strong knowledge for use of biological products for different diseases. As a matter of fact, people all over the world depend upon traditional medicine in some capacity today.

Pharmaceutical products derived from plants occupies a major share in the medicine market today. More than 25% of the medicines are derivatives of plant products either directly or indirectly. In case of certain sections of drugs such as antitumor or antimicrobial medicine, the percentage may be as high as 60%. A number of developed countries such as Germany, USA, Canada, France and Australia as well as developing countries like Ethiopia, Myanmar, Mali, India etc. has a large chunk of the population who rely on herbal medicine for cure to common ailments. According to WHO estimate, the global market for traditional medicine grew from $706 million in 1999 to a staggering $1006 million within a span of two years. The growth of the market in traditional medicine reflects a view that the general population still believes that this alternate form of medicine works.

There are drugs derived from plant sources which caused a major impact to human health. Artemisia annua, which the Chinese have been using as a traditional medicine for cure against fever, jaundice and headache, was used to isolate a drug Artemisinin. Artemisinin is a major antimalarial drug that is currently in use. Other example is paclitaxel (Taxol) which is a chemotherapeutic drug used against cancer derived from Taxus brevifolia.However, a plant part or plant extract used in traditional medicine is a combination of a plethora of biochemical, which can have detrimental effect on health. Such is the case, when the US FDA warned against invalidated use of such products. The capacity of modern experimentation combined with the traditional herbal medicine can be an answer to this issue. Biotechnology based approach for screening of such medicinal plants and its product can promote a sense of validation and value addition to the already known system of medication. Modern high throughput bioassay guided system of screening can lead to fast discoveries and isolation of bioactive compounds from such sources. Such approaches are currently in progress at different laboratories around the world.

Not only can experimentation with cultured animal cells in the laboratory be used for effect of such plant products on human cells, biotechnology can be applied for enhancement of the biologically active compounds. Plants which are known to have medicinal properties can be propagated in large numbers in a short duration of time using plant tissue culture, which has the capacity to produce millions of genetically and physiologically identical plants from a fragment of tissue. Plant tissue culture bypasses the natural cycle of reproduction which can be detrimental in some way, by mixing of unwanted genes or the long reproduction cycle of plants. Moreover, it can help in conservation of the plant species of interest as human greed can destroy the entire population.

Another application of plant tissue culture is to isolate the drug from suspension culture. It is a type of cell culture in which individual plant cells are grown in a liquid medium for a definite period of time. The conditions of growth are properly monitored and the right environment for maximum production of the compound are provided. The advantage of this technique is that, there will be uniformity in production of the desired products as the condition is standardized by different methods of experimentation, maximum production can be obtained, purification is much simpler as compared from a whole plant, and above all the requirement of growing the plants in fields, harvesting and processing of it is drastically minimized. This causes a considerable reduction in time and manpower with increase in production of the drug.

In a molecular approach, the genes coding for the desired product can be enhanced for maximum productivity. A method called combinatorial biosynthesis in which genes from different organisms are put together for synthesis of a novel plant product of pharmaceutical value. This method can be used for synthesis of new drugs as well as for enhancement of efficacy of existing drugs. With the ongoing rate of development in modern experimentation methods and our rich flora of medicinal value an arsenal of drugs can be rapidly added for fight against various diseases.
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The primary difference between Biotechnology and traditional pharmaceuticals is the method by which the drugs are produced: the former are manufactured in living organisms such as bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells, whereas the latter are manufactured through a series of chemical synthesis.
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