Pine Trees Fight Flu 

Pine trees are not rare in Maine, but a local research team found they carry a unique material used in a common flu vaccine.”We’ve been going out and collecting needles form conifers.”Professor Ray Fort is one of three scientists at the University of Maine who discovered that pine needles carry shikimic acid, a base ingredient in the drug Tamiflu.”We’ve been testing a variety of procedures for separating out the good stuff. The so called shikimic acid,” he said. Fort says extracting the acid from pine needles is similar to making a cup of tea. They boil the needles in water, which releases the compound stored inside.”Separating out the goodies from the tea is the hard part, and what really requires the research.”It’s what they have spent the last four years working on. Currently, the primary source for the acid is a fruit in China called, star anise. However, the team from Orono thinks pine needles can compete. “We think we can simply because there’s such an abundance of conifer foliage,” said Barbara Cole, a Professor of Chemistry at the school.Pine trees offer an advantage to the environment, as well as the state. “It would be taking trees that are already cut, already pulp species, and just getting more and more value from them,” said Cole.Regardless of whether or not pine needles will be used for Tamiflu, the research has potential for other projects. “Sometimes, if you have a lot of something, people will figure out ways to use it.”