This book is for readers with some background in science, concerning the search for drugs, starting from molecular diversity in nature or molecular wilderness. Drug molecules may be used as such, or as starting points for improved drugs obtained from the interface of chemistry and biology. In some cases, the essential molecular features for drug properties from natural molecules may be identified and modified to more effective ones. In other cases, nature provides the targets, such as essential enzymes from infectious microorganisms, from which synthetic drugs can be designed. The mechanisms of action of drugs can be discerned by studying target–drug interactions. Nature may fight back, as in cases when microorganisms become resistant to drugs, but we can again use the chemistry–biology interface to obtain drugs which overcome the resistance. The battle goes on, hopefully with victory for both humans and balance of nature.
This book differs from those available on the subject of natural products and drugs derived therefrom in that it looks at the broad picture on how materials and organisms from nature affect our health and how we have combined our knowledge in chemistry, biology, and biodiversity to promote our wellness from resources in the "molecular wilderness," with caveats on sustainable utilization of these resources. It is therefore suitable, not only for readers interested in science and medicine, but also for those with interest in policy issues concerning sustainable development, environment, and issues concerning interaction of science and society in general.
Table of Contents
Molecular Wilderness Harsh and Healing
Gifts from Molecular Wilderness
Drug Targets from Molecular Wilderness
Molecular Wilderness as Templates for Drugs
The Wilderness Fights Back
Living with Molecular Wilderness
Prof. Yongyuth Yuthavong is senior research fellow at the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) of Thailand. While working at Mahidol University, Thailand, he was given the "Outstanding Scientist of Thailand" Award (1984) for his research on malaria biochemistry. In 2004, he received the Nikkei Asia Prize for Science, Technology and Innovation from Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Inc., Japan, for his work on antimalarial drug targets. He is a former Minister of Science and Technology of Thailand (2006–2008) and was the first president of NSTDA (1992–1998). He is now involved in the development of drugs against drug-resistant malaria as well as policy issues for science and technology, and education in general. He has special interest in introducing science and technology to young people.
"Writing a popular science book is more challenging than writing a professional one for the technical audience. One needs to be scientifically rigorous, yet speak in the language of the school student and the ‘lay’ public. There can be no threatening equations or complex chemical pathways, yet one should convey the message in a lucid manner. Professor Yuthavong carries it off with ease and elan. He has chosen the word "wilderness" deliberately, to evoke both excitement and awe in the reader. He shows how human creativity is able to chisel molecules from wilderness into useful products, how nature itself has been doing such molecular architecture over evolution, and how we may learn from it. The underlying message, expressed with time honored wisdom, is Gandhian in spirit. Recall what Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘Nature provides for man’s need, but not his greed’, and ‘Be the change you want the world to be’. This is a book that needs to be distributed across both the developing and developed worlds."
— D. Balasubramanian, Professor and Director of Research, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, India, and UNESCO Kalinga Prize Laureate in Science Popularization
"I very much like the idea of writing something that's technically correct but intended for a general audience. The topics would correct an impression that all drug discovery these days comes from high throughput screening of synthetic molecules. I’m very impressed with the variety of topics the writer has managed to touch upon and with how technically accurate the handling of these topics has been."
— Jon Clardy, Professor, Harvard Medical School and Broad Institute, USA
"This pioneering book is a powerful source of enlightenment on the vital connections between the diversity world's biological splendour and advancement of scientific knowledge. It offers a convincing case as to why the conservation of biological diversity is imperative for human wellbeing. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in sustainable development in general and environmental protection in particular."
— Calestous Juma, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School, USA, and Former Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity
"This is an excellent reading not only for researchers and students but also for general readers. The whole book is woven around the key term ‘wilderness’. It covers a wide area of subjects, from ancient myth to modern molecular biology and drug design. The book is not only educational but also highly entertaining. I hope in the future it will be available to those people who do not understand English."
— Hisao Masai, Professor, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Science and University of Tokyo, Japan
"The need to bring together new knowledge in basic sciences, agriculture, anecdotes and cultural norms on a single platform for efforts in prospecting for drugs from natural products cannot be overemphasized. Many have attempted to do this but only a few have the background necessary to succeed in the efforts. Professor Yongyuth brings with him a wealth of knowledge accumulated over thirty years and is probably the best to produce a much needed balanced view in the field."
— Ayoade Oduola, Former Deputy Director, UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, Geneva, Switzerland
"Professor Yongyuth Yuthavong has worked for decades at the highest levels of science and government and successfully cross pollinated these worlds. So it’s no surprise that his new book, Tapping Molecular Wilderness: Drugs from Chemistry–Biology–Biodiversity Interface, bridges the worlds of science and nature. Coming at the moment when the world is embarking on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals which also must embrace both science and nature, this book can be widely recommended for anyone who wishes to think more deeply about these goals—and the future of our world."
— Peter Singer, Professor, University of Toronto, and Chief Executive Officer, Grand Challenges Canada
"One thing that typifies the writer is his clarity in thinking and presentation: This quality is apparent in this highly readable book. Through hands-on drug research and involvement with related issues, he aims to make us appreciate nature for its cornucopia of simple and complex molecules that are beneficial to mankind. One such benefit is the natural products for combating pathogenic organisms whose drug resistance should be taken seriously by our making sustained and renewed efforts to fight them. After all pathogens must fight for their lives; simplistic and ephemeral efforts by the medical community have constantly proved to be inadequate. In this book the themes of the need to sustain nature for its biodiversity and to combat pathogens by natural and modified biomolecules shine through brilliantly."
— Bhinyo Panijpan, Former Director, Institute for Innovative Learning, Mahidol University, Thailand
"The author beautifully portraits the biodiverse ‘molecular wilderness’ as the world of wonder, full of treasure to benefit mankind. Complex chemistry of drug discovery and drug design is amazingly made simple. It ends with a strong message that molecular wilderness is powerful. We must respect its balance and coexist with it sustainably. Otherwise it fights back harshly. The book is very educational and inspiring. It is a complex scientific textbook neatly made simple for general readers. We definitely need more science and technology books in this literary style."
— Khunying Sumonta Promboon, Member of Thai National Legislative Assembly and Former President of Srinakarinwirote University, Thailand
"Living organisms produce both toxic compounds to disable their predators and beneficial compounds to protect or heal themselves, so as to enhance their ability to survive. So Nature, or the ‘Wilderness’, is a rich source of medically important molecules. Thus ‘Tapping the Molecular Wilderness’ has played a crucial role in the discovery of new drugs to combat human illnesses, such as infection and heart disease. The author elegantly discusses the principles of drug discovery, the need for an integrated role of chemistry and biology, novel strategies in research, as well as problems arising from drug resistance. As expert researcher, with success in devising a novel drug for malaria, the author has simplified the scientific concepts, historical perspectives and modern trends in drug discovery in a simplified manner, readily understood by the layman. More books like this are needed to show the importance of research, not only at applied level but also at basic level: Perhaps then governments, especially in developing countries, may invest more in research for the future."
— M. R. Jisnuson Svasti, Emeritus Professor, Mahidol University and Chulaborn Research Institute, Thailand
"The author should be admired for his bold effort to write a book on ‘natural science’ for the general public. As it turns out, this book not only contains a wealth of scientific information but also is very easy to read and to follow from the first page to the last. Readers will benefit from the knowledge given which can be used as a starting point to dig further into the ‘beauty of nature’. The author should be congratulated for the beautiful tale of science adventure."
— Yodhathai Thebtaranonth, Emeritus Professor, Mahidol University, Thailand, and ASEAN Outstanding Technologist and Technologist Awardee, 1995
"From the wilderness have come many revelations. Professor Yongyuth Yuthavong now has added chemistry to the list."
— Prapon Wilairat, Professor, Mahidol University, Thailand, and Outstanding Scientist of Thailand Awardee, 1997