Species of Derris (e.g. D. elliptica, D. malaccensis) and Lonchocarpus (e.g. L. utilis, L. urucu) (Leguminosae/Fabaceae) have provided useful insecticides for many years. Roots of these plants have been employed as a dusting powder, or extracts have been formulated for sprays. Derris plants are small shrubs cultivated in Malaysia and Indonesia, whilst Lonchocarpus includes shrubs and trees, with commercial material coming from Peru and Brazil. The insecticidal principles are usually supplied as a black, resinous extract. Both Derris and Lonchocarpus roots contain 3-10% of rotenone (Figure 4.49) and smaller amounts of other rotenoids, e.g. deguelin (Figure 4.49). The resin may contain rotenone (about 45%) and deguelin (about 20%).
Rotenone and other rotenoids interfere with oxidative phosphorylation, blocking transfer of electrons to ubiquinone (see page 159) by complexing with NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase of the respiratory electron transport chain. However, they are relatively innocuous to mammals unless they enter the blood stream, being metabolized rapidly upon ingestion. Insects and also fish seem to lack this rapid detoxification. The fish poison effect has been exploited for centuries in a number of tropical countries, allowing lazy fishing by the scattering of powdered plant material on the water. The dead fish were collected, and when subsequently eaten produced no ill effects on the consumers. More recently, rotenoids have been used in fish management programmes to eradicate undesirable fish species prior to restocking with other species. As insecticides, the rotenoids still find modest use, and are valuable for their selectivity and rapid biodegradability. However, they are perhaps inactivated too rapidly in the presence of light and air to compete effectively with other insecticides such as the modern pyrethrin derivatives (see page 188).
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Detoxification is something that is very important to the body, but it is something that isn't understood well. Centuries ago, health masters in the East understood the importance of balancing and detoxifying the body. It's something that Western medicine is only beginning to understand.