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Local plant purifies water, stops cancers

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Jatropha-curcas-OKAYResearchers have shown that extracts of a local plant could not only provide the next novel drug for pains, breast, liver and lung cancers but a biomass recovered from it could help purify water from contamination of copper and zinc. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.

Commonly called physic nut, pig nut, fig nut, purging nut and Barbados nut, Jatropha curcas belongs to the plant family Euphorbiaceae.

In Nigeria, Jatropha curcas is called mbubok in Anaang, bilit in Angas, habb el meluk in Arabic-Shuwa, oru-ebo in Edo, kokolaji in Fulani, kwotewi in Gwari, urieroh in Urhobo, and lapalapa (meaning ringworm) and olobotuje in Yoruba.

According to The useful plants of west tropical Africa, Vol 2 by H. M. Burkill, Jatropha curcas is a shrub or tree to six metre high, native of the American tropics and now dispersed and naturalised throughout the tropics.

However, a recent research published in Open Chemistry found that a biomass recovered from common plant could help purify water from contamination of copper and zinc.

Prof. Gustavo Ferreira Coelho from the University Center Dynamic of Cataracts in Parana, Brazil, in an article published in Open Chemistry reported on the possible use of biosorbents derived from Jatropha curcas waste, to remove heavy metal ions from water.

Once released from the industry into the environment, accumulated toxins and trace amounts of heavy metals can contaminate waterways for decades or more in concentrations high enough to pose severe health risks on human health, let alone meet the standards for portability.

Conventional methods for removing heavy metals from water — such as treatment with activated carbon or more advanced technologies like ion-exchange resins — have proved very effective, but they can, however, be too expensive for use in developing countries, especially in rural areas.

This need for low cost, sustainable and ecological alternatives has fostered research on biosorption — a biological method often advised as a cheaper and more effective technique for heavy metal ion removal and recapture from industrial wastewater.

Native to the American tropics, perennial Jatropha curcas has already been hailed as unique as a potential substitute for petroleum, or as a source of biodiesel.

Now, the article published in Open Chemistry suggests its use for removing heavy metal ions, that is copper and zinc, from water. The biosorbents obtained from the plant appear to act similarly to commonly used commercial adsorbents. But importantly, production of Jatropha curcas biosorbents is cheaper when compared to commercial alternatives.

Coelho and his team tested three different adsorbents obtained from Jatropha curcas seeds. They checked the influence of different conditions on the adsorption of copper and zinc ions on these adsorbents and were able to figure out optimal conditions determining the top parameters for adsorption.

While still early, the researchers think that their findings add to solving the problem of water pollution by using cheap but effective and fully natural-derived adsorbents to remove heavy metal ions from water; an urgent problem for developing countries which struggle with drinking water shortages.

Meanwhile, Nigerian researchers at Michael Okpara University, Umudike, Abia State, had found that an extract of Jatropha curcas acts as a strong painkiller and may have a mode of action different from conventional analgesics, such as morphine and other pharmaceuticals.

Details of tests are reported in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology. The researchers had earlier reported in the African Journal of Biomedical Resident that the methanolic leaf extract of Jatropha curcas had significant analgesic properties and might be acting through both peripheral and central pain mechanisms.

Omeh Yusuf and Ezeja Maxwell of the Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike extracted what they believed to be the physiologically active components of the leaves of Jatropha curcas using methanol as solvent. They compared the effects of this extract at 100, 200 and 400 milligrams per kilogramme of body mass, against 400 mg/kg of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) in standard laboratory animal tests for assessing the strength of painkillers.

They found that 100 mg/kg was an inadequate dose, however, 200 and 400 mg/kg doses produced analgesia comparable to aspirin, affirming the use of the plant for pain relief in traditional medicine. The team suspects that the extract may be acting through both peripheral and central pain mechanisms. Yusuf and Maxwell are now carrying out more work on isolating and characterising the active ingredient in the extract and in determining the precise mode of action.

Also, Thai researchers have demonstrated that the purified compound from roots of Jatropha curcas potentially exhibited the effectiveness of its anti-cancer activity and apoptosis induction in breast cancer. “It thus, holds the promise of being a potent and selective anti-cancer agent that deserved further exploration.”

According to the study published in Thai Cancer Journal, the purified compound from Jatropha curcas has been extensively investigated for the anti-cancer activity on cancer cells. In this study, the effects of purified compound from roots of Jatropha curcas, Curcusone C, underlying anti-proliferation activity and apoptosis induction in human mammary carcinoma; MCF-7 was investigated.

India researchers have also found that the methanolic fraction of leaves of Jatropha curcas (MFJC) could protect the liver against hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) induced by Aflatoxin B (AFB1), that is oxidative damage in rats due to its capability to induce the in vivo antioxidant system.

According to the study published in International Journal of Pharmacology and Science, the researchers administered orally (100 & 200 mg/kg) for 14 days to hepatocarcinoma bearing rats. It reads: “Marked increase in lipid peroxide levels and concomitant decrease in enzymic antioxidants levels were observed in carcinoma induced rats, while MFJC treatment reversed the conditions to near normal levels. Liver histopathology showed that MFJC reduced the incidence of liver lesions, lymphocytic infiltrations, and hepatic necrosis induced by AFB1 in rats.”



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