Traditional medicine: A new look at nature’s treasures| Adventures in Genomics

(upbeat, jazzy music) – I used to work at a large drug company, in the United States. One day, I suddenly realized, why do we have to develop
our synthetic compounds, and then test them in clinical trials, when traditional medicine provide us with a huge untapped resources of potentially effective
and safe drugs, already? And this drugs have been tested in human for thousands of years.

All we have to do is to apply modern technology to insure the efficacy and
the safety of this compound. (upbeat, rhythmic music) (gentle flute music) – Today, we're in Beijing, in the gardens of the Institute of
Medicinal Plant Development, to meet with Dr. Chang Liu. – He's using genomics to study this vast collection
of medicinal plant, and their use in traditional
Chinese medicine. (upbeat, melodic music) – Here we are inside the Beijing Medicinal Gardens, one of the top medicinal
plant gardens in the world. It's primary goal is to conserve the plant
resources for the nation. And more so serve as a base for research and the public education. – China has a long history in the use of traditional medicine. – Yes, actually there's more
than 10,000 medicinal plant that's used in the
traditional Chinese medicine, which we call the TCM in short.

If you go through the literature, there's more 100,000 of
the medicinal recipes. Three of the most famous one, the first one is called Ben Cao Gang Mu. It's actually written by
a person named Li Shi-zhen in the 16th century. That is like the Chinese
pharmacopeia in ancient China. The second book is Shen nong Ben cao Jing. What's amazing about this person is he actually go to the wild and taste all kinds of medicinal plants. So it's the first personal trial. The third one I would like to mention, which is a connect to the
modern drug discovery, the name of the book is called The Prescription for Emergency disease. It's written by a person
named Hong Ge in 340. – A lot of modern medicines really have their origins
in traditional medicine. – Yeah, that's certainly true. Arteminisin is one of the list of the first line medicine by WHO. So it's still very, very effective. Dr. Tu Youyou, she actually discovered the Arteminisin, based on Ge Hong's book, more than 20 years of work, eventually her work won
Nobel Prize in 2015.

So that's really a great demonstration connecting the traditional medicine and the modern medicine today. – Is traditional medicine
a big business in China? – If we add everything together, that's including the
traditional medicine as drugs and also as the function of food. The total sales adds up
to 250 billion US dollars. That's a huge number. – So what role does IMPLAD
play in this industry? – IMPLAD the full name of IMPLAD is Institute of Medicinal
Plant Development, is affiliate with the Chinese
Academy of Medical Science.

The main mission of IMPLAD
is to preserve and develop, and then utilize the
medicinal plant resources. It's also collaborating
center of WHO in China. So it's really the leader in the medicinal plant
research area in the world. – So is there a chance that
some of these original sources would actually become extinct? – Yes, that's actually a problem. One of the most known example is ren shen, is the king of herbs. However the wild ren
shen has extinct already. So that certainly demonstrate the urgency for us to take measures to conserve the precious
natural treasures.

(melodic music) Plant are highly diverse. However they are morphologically
very, very similar. Here we showed two example. This medicinal plants have very, very different
chemical compositions, and also therapeutic effects. This, of course, will cause a problem in the TCM product that's made from them. (uptempo, rhythmic music) Once we collect the
samples from the garden, the next step is to extract the DNA. In order to do this, the first step is to put
the leaves into a mortar. In the presence of liquid nitrogen, we use the pestle to grind them. Depends on the texture of the leaves, you might have to repeat
the steps a few times.

Once we have the leaves grinded, the next step is we retrieve the samples into micro centrifuge tube,
add extraction buffers, and then, after incubation, we put the micro centrifuge onto a rotator to make sure the solutions
can be mixed very well. After that, we put in the micro centrifuge
tube into a centrifuge to separate the precipitate
and the suspension. After we get the DNA, the next step is to construct a library
to do the sequencing. (bouncy, rhythmic music) Once the DNA samples has been sequenced the FASTQ files can be assembled
to get the complete genome. We map the reads to the completed genome. And here in the bottom we shows the ATCG, that's the base of the DNA sequence. This picture here shows
the annotated genome.

We can see that outside
there's different blocks with different colors, they actually represent different genes falling into different functional groups. Once we have the whole genome sequenced we can use all the sequence from genome to do the phylogenetic analysis. And this kind of genetic classification tends to have a very high
resolution, which is show here. And very closely related species can be discriminated successfully. In this example here, we obtained 10 different individual plant and then we sequenced them. This region can be used to
discriminate individual plant. That's going to be very,
very helpful in terms of insure the safety and efficacy of TCM products in the future. (gentle, rhythmic music) – What inspires you about this work? – My background involve both
genomics and drug discovery. So be very natural for me to think about applying
the genomic technology to drug discovery, particular
for traditional medicine. – Where do you see the future
of traditional medicine? – In my view there's
really no distinctive line between the so called traditional medicine and the modern medicine.

It's really just we
look at the same thing, human disease, from
different perspectives. Together, I think we can
modernize the traditional medicine and make it to meet human medical needs..

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