The European yew (pictured) has brought more good to this world than just providing festive images for Christmas day. Inside the needles of this poisonous conifer lies a chemical that can be converted into an anti-cancer drug called taxol. Most commonly used to treat breast, ovarian and lung cancers, the drug works by stopping cancer cells from separating into to two new ones, blocking tumour growth. Originally, the drug’s active chemical was sourced not from the European, but from the closely related Pacific yew. But to provide taxol to all those in need, Pacific yews were being felled at a rate much higher than they could ever regrow. An alternative was needed, and found in the abundant European yew. And though nowadays most taxol is actually produced in a lab, the European cousin of the decorated trees inside our houses has given countless people the opportunity to celebrate another Christmas.
Written by Emma Bornebroek
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.