Natural products are organic compounds that occur naturally in plants, microbes and animals. These natural products often have medicinal and pharmacological applications, and are used to discover and design new drugs. A good example of a natural product with pharmacological value is Paclitaxel (Taxol) which is produced by the Yew tree, a conifer found througout the Pacific Northwest. It was first discovered in 1967 and later developed by chemists at Bristol-Myers Squibb for use in chemotherapy treatment for lung, breast, ovarian, neck, and head cancer.
In order for natural products to be used as drugs they must often be synthesized into a usable form. Unfortunately, natural products usually have very complex structures that are difficult to fully synthesize. Drugs such as morphine, penicillin, and taxol can only be produced in their natural form, from a natural source. Natural products chemists and pharmacognosists work to find ways to use natural products in their natural and synthesized state to design and develop drugs that can be used to treat diseases and ailments.
Individuals pursuing career opportunities in natural product chemistry and/or pharmacognosy must have an expert knowledge of biology, chemistry and pharmacognosy. Earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry or a closely related disciplines is typically the minimum qualification for a career in this industry. Biochemistry and natural products programs (at both the undergraduate and graduate level) focus on employing a chemical approach to solving problems relating to life and health. Course offerings may include advanced biochemistry, natural products chemistry, bioassay, compound identification and isolation, structural chemistry, spectroscopy, molecular biology, microbiology and natural biopolymers. Other optional courses may include botany, genetics, pharmacological therapeutics, and chemical ecology. While all programs will include extensive study in chemistry and biology, elective course will vary by school.
Browse the list below of accredited colleges and universities offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs in biochemistry, natural products chemistry and pharmacognosy.