Growing drugs, Identify life and make way for microbes. Wednesday at Botanical Congress

Botanical Congress, Media releases

Queensland researchers believe future cancer drugs could be grown in sunflowers and ultimately delivered as a seed ‘pill’.

They’ve got a long way to go, but the concept illustrates the power of modern botany to deliver everything from new medicines, to functional foods, and customised biofuels. More below.

Also at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne today: IdentifyLife will empower everyone to identify plants and animals. Make way for the microbes – can plants help us create a sustainable future or do we need to turn to microbes?

Could we grow drugs using sunflowers?

Queensland researchers believe future cancer drugs could be grown in sunflowers and ultimately delivered as a seed ‘pill’.

They’re a long way from that outcome. But, as they reported to the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne today, they have already shown that sunflowers make a precursor to cancer drugs as part of their defence against insect attack.

The precursor, a small ring-like protein fragment known as SFTI, has already shown potential as a cancer treatment. Until now, however, it has been considered too expensive to produce by conventional means.

This could all change, using plants as factories, says Dr Joshua Mylne of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland. More at

Identify Life – “The beginning of wisdom is to call a thing by its right name.”

“If you don’t know what something’s called, you can’t find out whether it’s poisonous or harmless, common or rare, a pest or an important native.” Dr Kevin Thiele, Director of IdentifyLife says.

Tomorrow, Thursday he is releasing a huge collection of identification keys to life on earth – it will help everyone from scientists to farmers, to school children to identify the life around them.

His long term aim is ‘A key to all life – a powerful but simple key that can be used to identify any living creature. It all forms part of the Atlas of Living Australia – an online encyclopaedia of Australian biodiversity that anyone can access, and contribute to – it will open up a new generation of ‘citizen natural scientists’ following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter, an accomplished scientist and children’s author. More at

Make way for the microbes?

For the whole of human history, we have relied on plants as the basis for satisfying the bulk our food, fibre and fuel needs—but are we about to enter a Brave New World where microbes will share the load?

The ABC’s Robyn Williams chairs a lunch debate on the direction of botany with, speaking for plants: Prof. David Mabberley, incoming director of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens Trust and Dr Kevin Thiele, Curator Western Australia Herbarium.

Speaking for the microbes: Dr Jeff Powell, Microbial ecologist and lecturer, University of Western Sydney; and Assoc. Prof. Kirsten Heimann, Cell biologist and biofuels expert, James Cook University. More at

Other stories

  • Tomorrow, Thursday: citizen scientists – find out how many plant and animal species live in your suburb; Fighting the ‘vampire plant’ African witchweed (Striga); What’s next for cotton? Cyanide in imported cassava; Jurrassic plants and more.
  • Yesterday: wine vintages getting early and changing terroir; the world’s most popular tree sequenced.

Congress media: Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977, or AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or email