Study shows how genetic sequencing helps untangle the subtle tangles of traditional Chinese medicine’s effects

TCM has one of the longest histories of any herbal system known to man. And it has a thick bundle of recent research behind it.

Much TCM research is confused from the Western point of view

The problem with most of this research, at least from a Western perspective, is that the material being studied is often poorly characterized. Most TCM preparations consist of multiple herbal ingredients, with some degree of variance in composition depending on the source. Therefore, when studies use specific substances, for example, Huoxiang Zhengqi Powder, Sanren Decoction or Shenling Baishu Powder, it is difficult to know exactly what was studied and what components of those substances are responsible for the effects observed.

As a result, while some of the results can be considered strongly suggestive, they cannot be considered definitive, at least when viewed closely through the lens of the RCT model that takes place in the West. (With that being said, the poor characterization of study materials was a failure of many Western herbal studies as well.)

The new study has been published in the journalFrontiers in plant sciences. It was the work of researchers associated with many universities, hospitals and research institutes in China.

The authors note that while many TCM preparations have shown good effects in clinical practice, it is not always clear why.

“Functional components and the corresponding pharmacological mechanism of the herbs are unclear,” They said.

Third generation sequencing makes rapid and comprehensive assays easier

The authors note that advanced technology in genetic sequencing has made this type of investigation possible. First generation, or Sanger sequencing, was difficult to apply to complex plant genomes and was slow and expensive to run. Next-generation sequencing was the second iteration of this technology, but according to researchers it still suffers from it “[C]Some drawbacks, such as short read length (typically 200–800 bp), base mismatch, GC preference, and template migration during PCR amplification, may affect the accuracy and integrity of the sequencing data. “