Riordan, J. Aukai
Cytotoxicity of Thirty-Six Moroccan Plants Against Four
Cancer Cell Lines and 3T3 Cells
Faculty Mentor: Rex G. Cates, Integrative Biology
It is not hard to believe that eighty percent of the populations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America
rely principally on traditional medicine for their primary source of health care.1 However, many
people do not realize that many of the best-selling pharmaceuticals in the Western world are
derived directly from medicinal plants.2 Considering this great potential, it is unfortunate that
scientists have only tested a small percent of plants for medicinal activity.3 At a time when
pathogens are developing immunity to traditional antibiotics and when many new and terrifying
ailments are cropping up across the world, there is an intense need to find new and effective
medicines. One of the most efficient places to begin this search is to test the pharmaceutical
value of plants that traditional healers have been using for centuries.
It is for this purpose that Dr. Rex Cates worked to establish the Natural Products Research Lab at
BYU. Our particular project focused on
medicinal plants from Morocco. Working
closely with villagers from Morocco and
professors from the Hassan II Institute of
Agronomy and Veterinary Science (IAV)
who collected the plants, I tested thirty-six
plants against various pathogens (Candida
albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and
Escherichia coli), cancers (prostate,
cervical, skin and breast cancer), and one
normal cell line (3T3 cells). Apart from
the potential for drug development, our Figure 2-BYU/IAV group eating couscous in a Berber
joint goal with IAV is to improve the
quality of life for villagers in Morocco who use these plants by: (1) boosting their economy by
finding pharmaceutically-active plants that can be grown and sold to drug/herbal companies, (2)
dispersing information on which commonly-used plants are most effective in combating disease,
and (3) identifying and teaching about which plants show toxicity against normal cells, thus
posing a danger to people and their livestock, especially goats.4 Based on this screening, three
plants showed potential for further drug development.5 These plants will be sent to the National
Institute of Health (NIH) to further evaluate their pharmaceutical potential.
The second half of this project included presenting our findings to our partners in Morocco. This
past summer, I went to Morocco as part of a team from the Benson Institute which included Kent
Crookston (Dean, College of Biology and Agriculture), Rex Cates (my mentor), Andrew Cardon
(fellow research assistant), and myself. While there, I presented my results to professors and
villagers at a governor’s conference in Khenifra, Morocco. We also collected more plants for
testing and augmented relationships and collaboration with our colleagues from (IAV).
Perhaps the greatest difficulty we faced came from international regulations on the transportation
of plant matter. Ideally we extract compounds from fresh plants to avoid losing any potentially
active compounds. However, law required plants to be sent dry which necessitated some
changes in our methodology and may have resulted in changes in plant chemistry.
On the other hand, the collaboration we have
established with IAV, particularly with Professor
Driss Lamnaouer who has been central to this
project from its infancy, has been extremely
rewarding for me personally and for BYU at large.
Through their partnership, our time in Morocco
was significantly more effective; allowing us to
accomplish in two weeks what would have
otherwise taken two months. Their association
allowed us to quickly build a rapport with villagers,
Figure 1-Andrew Cardon (foreground), Rex Cates and their extensive knowledge of Moroccan
(back left), and Aukai Riordan (back right) cataloguing
culture and traditional medicine was key to our
success. In return, the data that we collected
will be very beneficial to their country. We look forward to working with them further on this
project. I have come to the conclusion that effective collaboration with natives significantly
increases international significance and is the key to success and longevity of any international
World Health Organization. 2003, May. Retrieved December 9, 2004:
Cragg, G.M., D.J. Newman, and K. M. Snader., “Natural products in drug discovery and development,” Journal of Natural
Products 60 (1997): 52-60.
One author believes that only one half of one percent of all plant species have been extensively studied to determine their
medicinal value (Balick, M.J., P.A. Cox., Plants, People, and Culture: The science of ethnobotany. (New York: Scientific
American Library, 1996), 228.
For example, Clematis cirrhosa, a common medicinal plant in Morocco, has been shown to cause cirrhosis of the liver. (Bull,
L.B., C.C.J. Culvenor, A.T. Dick,. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids (New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company Inc, 1969).
Potential was based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to: activity against normal 3T3 cells, activity against
pathogens and/or cancers, and how well drugs maintained activity at varying doses.
Acknowledgments: Dr. Driss Lamnaouer of IAV