Issue Date: May 14, 2007
Graduate Training In Natural Products
Most undergraduate programs in chemistry barely mention natural products, so many scientists don't learn about the field until they have a job or look into graduate school.
Graduate training in natural products chemistry may take a little digging to find. Four general areas to check are chemistry, medicinal chemistry, pharmacy, and oceanography.
"Historically, most of the departments with an explicit natural products research focus were in schools of pharmacy," says Larry Walker, professor of pharmacology and director of the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi. Some schools still have the programs, but other institutions have reorganized their departmental structures.
Few traditional chemistry or oceanography departments claim natural products as a departmental identity, but many have at least one investigator working on an area of natural products, Walker adds.
Almost all parts of natural products work contain components of chemistry and biology. Natural products chemists generally make molecules, whereas more biologically oriented groups such as pharmacognocists tend to isolate and characterize molecules found in nature, says A. Douglas Kinghorn. He is a professor of natural products chemistry and pharmacognosy in the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Natural Products, which is copublished by the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. So, for anyone working in natural products, he says, "it's very important to be able to speak the language of biology as well as being chemically oriented."
In most cases, natural product scientists agree that learning appropriate skills is more important than the specialty that gets printed on a degree. What matters is developing solid skills in, for example, organic synthesis, isolation and characterization, DNA bioassays, or analytical instrumentation.
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