There’s a need for new molecules to study for treating psychiatric disorders and alleviating pain One place to look for new therapeutic compounds are plant-based remedies from traditional medicine In the Polynesian islands, people have made a beverage from the root of the kava plant for thousands of years People report the drink reduces anxiety and
pain without addictive properties. Tomáš Pluskal, a postdoctoral researcher
in Jing-Ke Weng’s lab at Whitehead Institute, led a study that identified the genes that
kava uses to make its cocktail of medicinal chemicals. Kava is related to pepper plants, but the
researchers found a set of genes that evolved recently and allow the plant to produce a diverse array of psychoactive compounds from simpler precursor molecules. These findings open the way for scientists
to produce large amounts of the compounds to study their effects and investigate whether they can treat anxiety, pain, and other conditions.