Plants have been used as medicines or sources of medicines since time immemorial and will still be used. In our need for new antimicrobial, antiviral, and antitumor drugs we turn to nature because only a small percentage of the total plant species have been examined chemically and still fewer have been tested for biological activity. Large screening projects are going on and will certainly reveal new interesting molecules with desired activities. The program of the annual meeting of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research in 2000 contained lectures with the following titles: "Will science in the new millenium be different?," "Ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology: their role in future medicinal plant research," and "Understanding the molecular basis of action of natural products—a challenge for the new millenium" (32). These titles reflect the focus and direction of medicinal plant research in the near future.
On the cultivation front, it remains to be seen whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be accepted for production of foodstuffs and medicinal plants. At the moment, opposition to GMOs is strong among the public, but this may change if researchers are able to show that genetically modified plants are safe to both consumers and the environment. Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) will definitely be applied in the isolation of plant-derived drugs and the preparation of extracts when the method is out of its infancy, i.e., apparatus becomes cheaper, more readily available, and easy to operate. SFE is an extremely powerful isolation method, and as an extra bonus extraction using supercritical carbon dioxide leaves no solvent residues in the final product and is environmentally safe. Also, extraction with subcritical water may be a method of choice in the future.
The functional food market seems to expand daily and the line between food and drugs becomes more wavering in spite of different authorities' efforts to make a clear distinction between the two groups. In the future we might prevent diseases by eating functional food, cereals enriched with vitamins, yoghurt enriched with fibers, soy products providing phytoestrogens, green tea rich in flavonoids, etc., and treat diseases by replacing the gene (or genes) responsible for the particular disease. However, not all diseases can be treated by gene therapy; and there will always be a need for analgetics and antibiotics, among others, and nature will provide at least part of these drugs in the future.
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