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Published on February 10th, 2010 | by Guest Contributor


Scientists Discover First Ever Female Sex Hormone in a Tree

In a finding that completely bucks conventional thinking, scientists have discovered the female sex hormone progesterone in a walnut tree. Despite the small differences in chemical structures and large differences in physiological function of steroids, it was believed that only animals could produce the hormone. But new discoveries indicate that plants and animals are more closely related than previously thought.

Occurrence of Progesterone and Related Animal Steroids in Two Higher Plants

Occurrence of Progesterone and Related Animal Steroids in Two Higher Plants

The discovery is reported in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, a monthly publication. “The significance of the unequivocal identification of progesterone cannot be overstated,” the article by Guido F. Pauli and colleagues, states. “While the biological role of progesterone has been extensively studied in mammals, the reason for its presence in plants is less apparent.”

Progesterone is a steroid hormone secreted by the ovaries to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. A synthetic version of progesterone–progestin–is used in birth control pills and other medications.

Relative configuration of the spirophanthigenins that provided proof for the planar arrangements along the bond pathways

Configuration of the spirophanthigenins that provided proof of the planar arrangements along the bond pathways

The hormone, like other steroid hormones, might be an ancient bioregulator that evolved billions of years ago before the appearance of modern plants and animals. But this new discovery could definitely change the scientific understanding of progesterone in living things. It’s function is still a mystery.

Scientists previously found progesterone-like substances in plants and speculated of its existence in plants. But researchers had not found the actual hormone until now. They detected the hormone in the leaves of the Common Walnut tree but also identified five new related steroids belonging to the buttercup family.

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