Scientists believe the discovery could apply to a broader range of infections as the extracts from both plants were found to have the same effect on all Covid-19 variants.

Aster koraiensis (top) and Codonopsis lanceolata (bottom) are native plants in South Korea.
Aster koraiensis (top) and Codonopsis lanceolata (bottom) are native plants in South Korea. (Institute for Basic Science)

Two different Korean plants, one a medicinal herb and the other an endemic flower that resembles a daisy: what do they have in common? According to a team of researchers in South Korea, they can prove to be very useful in the fight against Covid-19.

Since coronavirus was first detected in China, at least 6.65 million people have died worldwide in the worst pandemic in recent history, out of an estimated 647 million people the virus has afflicted. 

Several vaccines have been developed globally since the start of the pandemic. Still, scientists believe that the new discovery could apply to a wider range of infections as the extracts from both plants were found to have the same effect on all Covid-19 variants. 

Led by Director C. Justin Lee from the Life Science Institute (Center for Cognition and Sociality) within the Institute for Basic Science, a South Korean team of researchers recently announced that they discovered new antiviral compounds developed from these two native plants.

Saponins from deodeok and Korean starwort were exceptionally useful in preventing Covid-19 infection by stopping a process called membrane fusion, effectively stopping the viruses from invading host cells.

Initially, the South Korean team used human lung cells and a pseudovirus – as they were in a less restrictive biosafety level 2 research laboratory. They then conducted subsequent experiments that confirmed that astersaponin and lansemaside, the saponins from the two plants, would suppress infection with almost the same efficiency.

The team previously worked with Dr Seungtaek Kim from the Korea Pasteur Institute and discovered another saponin from the balloon flower called platycotin D, which was also found to work against a possible Covid-19 infection.

Director C. Justin Lee said, “Natural saponins contained in these plants are major constituents in many foods and herbal medicines that are readily accessible in everyday life.

“When ingested, it can be delivered at high concentrations to the epithelial cells of the upper respiratory tract, which means it can be effective in an asymptomatic or early stage of Covid-19 infection.”

He added, “While their effects have been confirmed only in vitro at the moment, clinical trials may be possible in the future if positive results are obtained in animal tests.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies