Saturday, September 17, 2016

Aggressive Herbivore Defense - Halt All Cell Division at Metaphase

Fall approaches, and with it comes the Meadow Saffron flowers.

The first thing you notice about the flowers, is that they exist long enough to be seen. That may sound odd, but we live in a wilderness of sorts, the northern Santa Cruz Mountains. Long ago I came to understand that despite my urges towards farming, all my efforts ammounted to was feeding the wildlife.

Then the Colchicum autumnale flowered. And, the flowers stayed.

The reason is simple: these plants are full of a deadly alkaloid, Colchicine.

Colchicine is an amazing alkaloid, in that it has a very specific mode of action: it prevents chromosome pairs from separating during mitotic cell division. It sounds odd, but this mode of action has proven invaluable to genetics.

Before sequencing, people looked at and counted chromosomes as a way to study organisms. Karyotyping is dependant on Colchicine.  This is the plant that is the source of Colchicine.

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