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The Center for Agroforestry

UMCA News Release

Abundant Missouri resource may have antibiotic, cancer-fighting properties

April 24, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Eastern redcedar is the most widely distributed tree-sized conifer in the eastern United States, although its many industrial uses are not widely known and it is considered an invasive weed tree in many regions of the country. But new research at the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry could help redcedar go from "trash to cash" for landowners.

Chung-Ho Lin, research assistant professor of forestry with the Center for Agroforestry, has found redcedar leaves and fruit to have compounds that may help to fight bacteria, fungi, agricultural pests and weeds, malaria, and the production of melanin, which can help skin have a more youthful appearance and even prevent skin cancer.

Lin said he has spoken with landowners who have acres and acres of redcedar but no idea what to do with it. He is working to change that common problem.

"This could provide an incentive for people to leave these trees on their land, where they can be beneficial to the environment, by preventing stream bank erosion, for example." Lin said. "Since redcedar spreads so rapidly, landowners can cut their trees for the wood, leaves and fruit without concern about the future of the species."

Lin and students Mark Hymbaugh, MU senior in biochemistry, and Amber Spohn, senior in environmental geology, studied the fruit, leaves, branches, roots, sawdust, oil, resin and bark of the redcedar, to determine which parts might have beneficial compounds. They extracted compounds from each tree part and then tested these compounds on bacteria, fungi, weeds and melanin to see if growth was inhibited. Chemical compounds found in the leaves and fruit had the most promising results, although levels of activity varied. Now, the potent compounds in the extracts showing high bioactivities will be further isolated and purified for chemical characterization. Ninety-five percent purity is needed to confirm that the chemicals identified are useful for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, Lin said.

"Every chemical has a `fingerprint,'" Lin said. "We use the fingerprint of the unknown compound and compare it to known chemical fingerprints in an existing database."

At least two antibacterial chemicals in the redcedar needles (leaves) have been isolated; these chemicals are similar to others found in past studies that have proven effective against a wide range of bacteria. In addition, other chemicals have shown promising inhibitory effects on melanin development and tyrosinase activity. This means they have great potential for skin care application for preventing and healing pigmentation after sunburn, freckles, liver spots, etc. Best of all, this class of chemicals has been proven to be very safe for external skin application.

The research also focuses on assessing the application of these chemicals in the agricultural, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

"Value-added phytochemical products from eastern redcedar have the potential to create new industries in regions such as Missouri with an abundant redcedar resource," Lin said.

Mike Gold, professor and associate director of the Center for Agroforestry, said the goal of the Center is to help landowners around the state and country get the most from their land. Through agroforestry practices such as riparian forest buffers, windbreaks, silvopasture, forest farming and alley cropping, landowners diversify products, markets and farm income; improve soil and water quality; and reduce erosion, non-point source pollution and damage due to flooding.

"The Center is interested in finding uses for redcedar, an abundant Missouri resource. These trees have been classified as a weed, yet are extremely common in this state. Looking to find productive uses from the beneficial compounds in redcedar will help create additional markets for the trees, where none existed previously," Gold said.

For more information about the Center for Agroforestry, go to

Redcedar video

--Michelle Hall
Senior Information Specialist
Center for Agroforestry
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9866

Chung-Ho Lin, 573-882-7965,
Mike Gold, 573-884-1448,

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