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Image of the Week: Thuja seed

3 Oct, 2014

B0006894 Seed head of a thuja tree.

This week we bring you a wrinkly, dull coloured seed. Whilst we certainly have some more stunning images in the collection, it’s the story behind this plant that makes it worth seeing.

This is a seed head from the Thuja tree – a genus of plants which have been used to make antimicrobial ointments to combat everything from thrush to warts and ringworm. Thuja oil was popular with herbalists in the 19th century and is still used in alternative medicine, where it remains a popular treatment for venereal warts!

Whilst experimental evidence for the antimicrobial properties, or indeed safety for medical use, of Thuja is lacking, many clinically-trialled antimicrobial medicines do have roots (no pun intended) in plants and fungi. Notably quinine, from the Cinchona Tree and artemisinin, from Artemisia annua are plant-derived treatments for malaria that were previously used in traditional medicine.

The ability of some plants and fungi to kill or stop the growth of pathogens has been well exploited, most famously in the development of antibiotic penicillin from the Penicillium fungus. Unfortunately, over use of antimicrobials has often led to pathogens evolving resistance to them. Antimicrobial resistance is an issue that the Wellcome Trust has been very involved with, working closely with the UK government. Different ways of combating resistance include using existing medicines more wisely, developing new antimicrobials, and using a variety of antimicrobials for treatment. Interestingly, looking to traditional medicine and plant derived products is often part of these solutions.

Image credit: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

One Comment leave one →
  1. therenatotan permalink
    4 Oct, 2014 3:09 pm

    Reblogged this on The Renato T. Things and commented:
    this one’s a creepylooking

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