Natural products are compounds made by living organisms―typically plants, microbes, and marine organisms but also insects and even mammals―that serve to propagate the species. Predating recorded history, the use of natural products for medicinal purposes has long benefited human societies. The poppy Papaver somniferum and its product opium (containing the key pharmacologically active natural product morphine) were cultivated and consumed by Neolithic tribes dating back more than 8000 years. Even today, about 40% of prescription drugs are natural products, or derive from them. "Natural products remain an important source of therapeutic drug leads and continue to inspire new approaches to problems in organic chemistry." Science has been elevated by the study of natural products. Organic chemists are innately fascinated with the intricacy of complex natural product structures, freighted with latent potential for synthetic design and expression of talent in the art of total synthesis. Pharmacologists, who measure biological properties of natural products, are often astounded by the potency and selectivity of the effects on cellular and organismal physiology. In the new millennium, there is a tendency among some to “retire” the field as a mature science, a presumption that is belied by the vigorous reprise of vitality in contemporary natural products chemistry. Here, in this ACS Virtual Issue, we can read of this steady ascendancy, augmented and propelled by new technologies in spectroscopy, synthesis, and genomics that link to allied fields in biology, computational chemistry―and yes―new classes of molecular structures. I invite you to peruse, read, and immerse your attention in 22 fine articles―highlighted and summarized from the ACS publications Organic Letters, The Journal of Organic Chemistry, and Journal of the American Chemical Society―that frame 22 stories of discovery, surprise, and scientific enlightenment.
- Tadeusz Molinski, Virtual Issue Guest Editor