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SFA cancer research lab focuses attention on giant salvinia

Stephen F. Austin State University

This winter’s hard freezes are helpful in fighting the spread of the invasive aquatic weed giant salvinia that continues to choke area waterways. 

Researchers at Stephen F. Austin State University are working on a new control. Turns out, a compound found in the plant could be lethal to itself. That compound was discovered in an SFA pharmaceutical research lab that investigates anti-cancer agents found in native and invasive plants, according to Steve Bullard, dean of SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture.

"In a way we consider salvinia to be an environmental cancer. The approach to dealing with it, just like in human cancer we work with chemotherapy and radiation, we’re thinking that multiple approaches are needed for this," Bullard said.

The director of SFA’s National Center for Pharmaceutical Crops, Shiyou Li, and his colleagues have isolated more than 50 compounds in giant salvinia. One of them shows promising bioactivities against human pancreatic and lung cancer cells. And yet another compound in the plant is toxic to itself. Li calls it an endogenous biocide or "endocide" for short.

“Some chemicals in certain plants may have a poison function on their own, so we introduced a new term called endogenous biocide," Li said.

SFA recently signed a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Red River Waterway Commission to work on field trials in central Louisiana. Li has completed three years of extensive research in his lab at SFA and has successfully controlled giant salvinia in various stages of growth.

Now, he wants to replicate his findings on test ponds. He’s also pursuing a patent on his work and seeking broader clearance from the Environmental Protection Agency to test the endocides on salvinia-infested waters.

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