New Tools For Quality Control

Germplasm improvement requires assessment and selection from a large number of individuals. Recently we have developed molecular-methods based AFLP (Amplified Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism), which reliably predict the HPLC-determined cichoric acid content across a wide selection of Echinacea germplasm (Baum et al., 2001). These methods are useful in the development of genetic-marker assisted selection of crop germplasm, which is expected to be much faster than traditional phytochemical analysis.

Assessment of the quality of raw materials and finished products can be enhanced with modern bioassays. Protein-based bioassays such as LOX enzyme inhibition assays by Echinacea or cytokine stimulation in macrophages by Echinacea have been considered recently for quality control (Rininger et al., 2000). We have also assessed the potential for drug interaction with different Echinacea herbal products in assays with cloned human CYP3A4 enzymes (Budzinski et al., 2000). New DNA array and quantitative PCR techniques now allow scientists to rapidly assess the induction of genes for cytokine production by measuring m-RNA levels in cultured cells treated with Echinacea (Orndorff, 2000). While these bioas-says cannot completely replace constituent analysis, they are powerful new additions to the toolkit for assessment and improvement of herbal products.

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