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Terpenes & Their Biological Relevance

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

This article is brought to you by theCannabis Commerce + Chemistry Podcast.


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A 1997 book chapter entitled "Terpenes and Their Biological Relevance" that was published in the book Studies in Natural Products Chemistry explored the evolutionary function of the aromatic molecules produced by hemp, cannabis, and more than 20,000 botanical species called terpenes.

Chapter Summary

"This chapter focuses on terpenes that are a large group of natural products, occurring mainly in higher evolved plants as secondary metabolites. The occurrence in higher evoluted plants only may be understood as a consequence of phylogenesis. The new physiology with the new acetate-mevalonate pathway gave the opportunity to the plants to produce a tremendous amount of substances acting as protecting agents.

"Among all the activities of terpenes from plants, their toxicity is most important for several reasons. One aspect is their role in ecology as the protection of the plants and the other is the economic aspect and also the health aspect because terpenes are involved in quite a number of envenomations.

"Terpenes have been developed during the evolution as protection, thus, establishing equilibrium between herbivors and plants."

"Terpenes are also used as signal substances, especially with ants but also with other insects. These compounds have been developed during the evolution as protection, thus, establishing equilibrium between herbivors and plants. Such protection has been especially important in the early times of angiosperms.

"So it is worth looking for their biological relevance because this may explain why many herbivors became extinct some 60 million years ago, while carnivors did not show this break in evolution."

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