John Arnason
John T. Arnason
Distinguished Professor
Emeritus Professor

BSc Carleton University (1970)
PhD Carleton University (1976)

GNN 270
(613) 562-5262

Department of Biology


Major Research Areas of the Arnason Lab 1980 to present

  1. Ethnobotany and traditional agriculture. Beginning with a 100-page review paper documenting traditional plant use by First Nations in Canada, we have published ethnobotanical research on indigenous plant use in Nunavut/ik, Central and South America, Central Borneo, E Timor, Bosnia and West Africa. Using a “two eyes seeing approach”, we have contributed phytochemical and pharmacological expertise on over 2 dozen papers evaluating safety and efficacy of traditional ethnobotanical treatments for type 2 diabetes in northern Cree communities. In addition we have collaborated with Maya elders on the evaluation of plants for mental health and systems of traditional agriculture. The outcome has been the validation and reinforcement of traditional science for  indigenous use.
  2. Natural Health Products. We  completed the first taxonomic and photochemical revision of the genus Echinacea (Binns et al, 2002 J. Agric. Food Chem. 50: 3673-3687) and were the first lab to document phytochemicals in herbals that inhibited  P450 mediated drug  metabolism (Budzinski et al  Phytomedicine. 7(4):273-82), a paper with over 180 citations. We have contributed several books including the recent  “Edible and medicinal plants of Canada”  (Lone Pine 2008). and have edited   at least 5 peer reviewed  symposia in the field,  “Biodiversity and Health”, NRC press (2005), “Natural Health Products”- special issue in Can J. Physiol  and Pharm., 2007, “Ethnobotany” special issue (2008) in Can J. Bot. and “St John’s Wort special issue” in JPP ( appearing 2017). Recently we discovered an antianxiety product with Costa Rican collaborators which has now passed clinical testing in dogs for toxicity and efficacy, was test marked in Canada during 2014 and will reach the US market in 2016
  3. Chemical Ecology, plant defenses and application to crop protection. Our papers cover natural defenses of plants and defense theory. We established the existence of light activated polyacetylenes as defences in plants, phytochemical redundancy of defences, and antifeedants form the Meliaceae. Our work on phytochemical insect resistance is in use at the International Agriculture Centre in Mexico, CIMMYT to produce resistant corn varieties for tropical countries (see Garcia Lara 2007). A major review on essential oil insecticides was published (Regnault Roger et al 2012). Currently we are working on synergists to reduce the application and adverse impact of neonicitinoids and bacterial biofilm and quorum sensing inhibitors in plants
  4. Phytochemical discovery. This is a career program of over 100 papers with Durst and tropical collaborators in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Belize identifying active new bioactive phytochemicals in rainforest plants in the Americas. We were among the first to isolate limonoid insect antifeedants and antimalarials from the Meliaceae, and a new biosynthetic class of spiro-triterpenes (see Asim et al, 2007). At least 30 novel phytochemicals were identified. Recent research has identified traditionally used plants for anxiolytic and antiepileptic activity.
  5. Metabolomics ( New!). We have been alarmed by the recent pollution of the scientific literature with unconfirmed metabolite identifications based on tentative MS matches.  Using our lifetime library of phytochemicals and UPLC MS QTOF, we have developed in collaboration with Waters Corporation  spectral library of 1000 compounds on UNIFI software which will assist plant scientists in obtaining more reliable identifications. The library will be made available in 2017.


For a full list of peer reviewed search Arnason JT in google scholar or web of scienc.

Ten important research papers from lifetime list:

  • Arnason, T., Hebda, R. J., & Johns, T. (1981). Use of plants for food and medicine by Native Peoples of eastern Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany, 59(11), 2189-2325.  160 citation

This is a most highly cited article on the Botany  website describing the ethnobotanical use of 400 species in 2000  applications by 14 First Nations.

  • Lambert, J. D., & Arnason, J. T. (1982). Ramón and Maya ruins: an ecological, not an economic, relation. Science, 216(4543), 298-299.

This article sets the record straight on controversial ancient land use in the Maya classic period.

  • Arnason, J. T., Philogene, B. J. R., & Morand, P. (1989). Insecticides of plant origin. Developed from a symposium sponsored by the Division of Agrochemicals of the American Chemical Society at the Third Chemical Congress of North America (195th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 5-11, 1988  312 citations.

This book developed from a major symposium we organized has been for many years the key reference for researchers in the field of natural product insecticides.

  • MacKinnon, S., Durst, T., Arnason, J. T., Angerhofer, C., Pezzuto, J., Sánchez-Vindas, P. E., ... & Gbeassor, M. (1997). Antimalarial activity of tropical Meliaceae extracts and gedunin derivatives. Journal of Natural Products, 60(4), 336-341.

This paper(169 citations) describes new potent  antimalarials substances isolated from plant sources

  • Budzinski, J. W., Foster, B. C., Vandenhoek, S., & Arnason, J. T. (2000). An in vitro evaluation of human cytochrome P450 3A4 inhibition by selected commercial herbal extracts and tinctures. Phytomedicine, 7(4), 273-282.

This is a highly cited paper (414 citation) because it was the first to demonstrate  the mechanism of Natural Health Product (NHP) drug interactions of a large number of NHPs and their active principles  as  the inhibition of the main enzyme that metabolizes drugs.

  • García-Lara, S., Bergvinson, D. J., Burt, A. J., Ramputh, A. I., Díaz-Pontones, D. M., & Arnason, J. T. (2004). The role of pericarp cell wall components in maize weevil resistance. Crop Science, 44(5), 1546-1552.

This paper ( 94 citations) identified resistance factors in maize that were used by the United Nation’s International Wheat and Maize Improvement centre (CIMMYT) to breed seed for worldwide use.

  • Cappuccino, N., & Arnason, J. T. (2006). Novel chemistry of invasive exotic plants. Biology Letters, 2(2), 189-193.

We provide evidence of role of novel toxic compounds in invasive species ( 158 citations).

  • Guerrero-Analco JA, Martineau L, Saleem A, Madiraju P, Muham mad A, Durst T, Haddad P, Arnason JT 2010 Bioassay-guided isolation of the antidiabetic principle from Sorbus decora (Rosaceae) used traditionally by the Eeyou Istchee Cree First Nations. J. Nat. Prod. 73:1519-23.

In this major CIHR funded project on Cree ethnobotany we identified  novel compounds with diabetic activity more potent than drugs.

  • Shang, Nan, Ammar Saleem, Lina Musallam, Brendan Walshe-Roussel, Alaa Badawi, Alain Cuerrier, J. T. Arnason, & Pierre S. Haddad. 2015. Novel Approach to Identify Potential Bioactive Plant Metabolites: Pharmacological and Metabolomics Analyses PloS one 10, no. 8: e0135721

Using the new technology of metabolomics we identified active principles for the first time using discriminant analysis.

  • Puniani, Eva, Christian Cayer, Pamela Kent, Martha Mullally, Pablo Sánchez-Vindas, Luis Poveda Álvarez, Victor Cal, Zul Merali, J. T. Arnason, & Tony Durst 2015. Ethnopharmacology of Souroubea sympetala and Souroubea gilgii (Marcgraviaceae) and identification of betulinic acid as an anxiolytic principle." Phytochemistry 113: 73-78.

This paper describes a novel anxiolytic botanical which has been developed as a canine noise aversion product.

Research interests

  • Phytochemistry
  • Ethnobotany
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Natural health products
  • Drug discovery
  • Botanical pesticides
  • Chemical ecology