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Biological Chemistry

Progesterone In Plants

August 23, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 34

I was surprised to read Carmen Drahl’s article about progesterone being discovered in a plant (C&EN, Feb. 8, page 13). This news article describes a research publication that touted the first evidence that progesterone is found in a plant. Although the journal article highlighted gives the first proof of progesterone in a deciduous vascular plant, progesterone had been previously isolated and identified from conifers.

In 2003, Ronald L. Jenkins and colleagues reported on the presence of androstenedione and progesterone in a Florida river associated with paper mill effluent and which led to masculinization of female mosquitofish in the river (Toxicol. Sci. 2003, 73, 53). It was hypothesized that the androgens present in the water were produced by bacteria from progesterone found in river sediment. Subsequent studies showed that progesterone occurs naturally in the loblolly pine, which serves as a steroid precursor to the androgens implicated in the mosquitofish masculinization (Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2008, 27, 1273).

What is most disturbing to me in this news story is not the incorrect claim of the first proof of progesterone in a plant, or the quotes from other natural-product researchers in the article who were unaware of the previous work, but the lack of effective communication about research that these examples demonstrate. With the ever-increasing rate at which publications are created and with the difficulty of literature databases to keep pace, previous publications may fall through the cracks of literature searches (Scientometrics 2010, 84, 575). With difficulties in keeping up with publication growth, increasing cross-disciplinary research, and the education of young researchers who seek information in new ways, perhaps it is time to reevaluate how we communicate in the sciences to foster and inform scientific progress.

Craig McClure
Birmingham, Ala.



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