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American Society of Pharmacognosy Celebrates 50th Anniversary
In 1959 at the University of Illinois Medical Center (UIMC), 88 members of the Plant Science Seminar (PSS) met to discuss the group’s possible transformation into a broader-scoped organization.1 PSS had been meeting informally for 36 years to discuss the relationship between educational institutions and pharmacognosy, the scientific study of drugs from natural sources.2 According to Prof. Norman Farnsworth, PhD, however, a growing and younger faction in the pharmacognosy field believed that the discipline needed more chemistry, scientific meetings, and its own journal (oral communication, January 21, 2009).

Despite some resistance, the gathering at UIMC became PSS’s last meeting as members ultimately voted on and approved a new constitution and bylaws to officially create the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP). The new society elected Prof. Varro E. Tyler, PhD, as its first president and Dr. Farnsworth, who was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, as the first vice president. Two years later in 1961, Dr. Farnsworth helped secure for ASP the publishing rights of Lloydia,3 a journal originally created and published by the famous medicinal plant researcher John Uri Lloyd and his brother Curtis Gates Lloyd.4

Fifty years after that small meeting, ASP is celebrating its golden anniversary. The organization has grown to 1,200 active and associate members, over 40% of whom are internationally-based (R. Okuda, oral communication, January 28, 2009). These members aim to promote the growth of pharmacognosy and all sciences that relate to medicinal plant research and natural products.1

“[ASP has] become a forum where all people with an interest in natural products can really gather, either at meetings or on the Web site,” said Guy Carter, PhD, the current president of ASP (oral communication, February 11, 2009). He added that the organization’s scope has grown to include the pharmaceutical, marine, and herbal natural products industries.

An essential and very successful component of ASP is the organization’s journal, which changed its name from Lloydia to the Journal of Natural Products in 1978 and is now co-published by the American Chemical Society.3 This highly respected publication quickly and widely disseminates information on the chemistry and biology of natural products of animal, microbial, marine, and plant origin. All content is also easily accessible from the journal’s Web site (http:// /journal/jnprdf).

“[This journal] has contributed to the science of natural products considerably,” said Dr. Farnsworth.

The Journal of Natural Products’ stature and significance have especially grown over the last 10 years, partly because it has incorporated a broader spectrum of scientists into its editorial board, which now represents diverse areas of study and locations around the world, said Dr. Carter.

Throughout the past 5 decades, ASP has been involved in many achievements within the field of pharmacognosy, as many members have contributed to the discovery of important drugs. For instance, Monroe Wall, PhD, and Mansukh Wani, PhD, an ASP honorary member, discovered and elucidated the structure Taxol®, which has anti-cancer properties and was originally derived from the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia, Taxaceae).5 With the efforts of former ASP President Matthew Suffness, PhD, who aided in developing Taxol’s application as a drug, it is now approved for various types of cancers (R. Okuda, e-mail, March 9, 2009).

ASP also performs numerous services for its members, such as its annual meetings that create networking opportunities for people from around the globe and the recently added yearly interim meetings that focus on issues surrounding dietary supplements and plant products. As another service, ASP’s Web site provides related news, job postings, meeting announcements, and contact information for many people in the natural products fields.

Though pharmacognosy’s status as a science has experienced fluctuations over time, Dr. Carter said he expects the field to continue to have relevance and be taught in pharmacy schools due to its historical roots in modern pharmaceuticals. Similarly, the natural products field has growth potential from entrepreneurs and scientists who have great ideas and are willing to do the work to develop new products, he said, adding that genomic information opportunities are also on the horizon.

In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, ASP is hosting a special annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii from June 27 to July 1, 2009.6 This scientific program features 10 speakers from all parts of the world, who will provide a broad perspective on the current state of pharmacognosy, natural products, and other related topics. Also speaking will be K.H. Lee, Adolf Nahrstedt, and Shengmin Sang, recipients of ASP’s Norman R. Farnsworth Research Achievement Award, Varro E. Tyler Prize for Research in Botanicals, and Matthew Suffness Young Investigator Award, respectively. Social events will include a nighttime luau and the ASP annual banquet. A historical multimedia presentation will open the meeting.

“Hawaii is a unique setting for the meeting, not only because of the location, but also because of the long history of natural products there,” said Roy Okuda, PhD, a past ASP president and a co-chair of the Organizing Committee of the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the ASP (oral communication, January 28, 2009).

Dr. Okuda added that Hawaii became the 50th US state in 1959, the same year ASP was created.

Even though the economic recession has caused the number of attendees to drop somewhat, expected turnout is about 500-600 people, possibly making it the largest pharmacognosy meeting ever held in the United States, Dr. Okuda said.

—Lindsay Stafford


  1. History of the Society. The American Society of Pharmacognosy Web site. Available at: Accessed February 11, 2009.

  2. Upton R. American Society of Pharmacognosy hosts historic forum on classical botanical pharmacognosy. HerbalGram. 2005; 67:69-71.

  3. Kinghorn A. A new beginning based on a proud tradition. Journal of Natural Products. 1996;59(1):1.

  4. Journals. Lloyd Library and Museum Web site. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2009.

  5. Ginsberg J. The discovery of Camptothecin and Taxol®. American Chemical Society Web site. Available at: nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=926&content_ id=CTP_004450&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=150542b9d1cc-4ba2-ae4d-b39b55038ebf#P58_16453. Accessed March 9, 2009.

  6. Okuda R. 1595-2009: Our Golden Anniversary! The ASP Newsletter. 2008;44(3):1, 4. Available at: Accessed January 6, 2009.