Synergism – In Botanical Medicines and In Music

March 15, 2017 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
South Street Arts Centre
21 South St
Reading RG1 4QU

Dr Wilkinson saxophonistChemistry, Medicinal Plants, Music & Mystery: Synergism in Botanical Medicines and in Music.

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johnwilkinsonPerformance piece and lecture for Reading Science Week – brought to you by the Reading Branch of the British Science Association.

Scientists and musicians Dr John Wilkinson and Kesia Trench in this lecture and concert will talk about how synergism (where an outcome is greater than the sum of the parts) in the natural world, in botanical medicines and in music are inspiring scientists to the develop new classes of modern medicines that combine knowledge from traditional medicine systems with 21st century sciences, such as ecology, pharmacology and chemistry.

There will also be a question and answer session around the scientific aspects of herbal medicines, supplements and traditional knowledge.

Come along for a wonderful night of cutting edge scientific research into molecules found in nature, the scientific development of botanical medicines and  also to be “bathed” in the wonderful sounds of live saxophone based,  deeply relaxing music together with  beautiful backdrop projections.


Combinations of musical notes to produce chords and harmony in music have been known and developed since the times of the great classical music composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. However, in medicine, scientists have yet to discover the molecular basis of the  “chords and harmony” for the development of modern medicines: single compounds rather than mixtures or “cocktails” of  compounds are the dominant approach to create and produce new medicines in the 21st century. If music was like medicine in 2017, we would only hear single note compositions such as a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo, rather the wonderful chords and harmonies from composers such as Bach, the Beatles and Beyonce.

Synergism (where the sum is greater than the addition of the individual components i.e. 2 + 2 = 5) does exist in ancient healing systems and also in the fields of phytochemistry among many other scientific disciplines.

In complementary medicine, herbalists often talk of the synergy effects of the cocktail of compounds found in herbal medicines; phytochemists confirm the presence of significant amounts of biologically active compounds found in plants, but by and large pharmaceutical companies ignore these findings and continue to develop single active, synthetic compounds as drugs, rather than exploring collections of compounds that interact synergistically with each other.

In this talk Dr John Wilkinson will explain why this situation has developed from an historical perspective and highlight new research (including his own research)  on the synergestic effects  of phyto-compounds that are inspiring scientists  to develop new drugs, new nutritional science and new herbal medicines in completely new ways.

Dr Wilkinson will also highlight how synergy in music has led to the discovery of chords and harmony including a live music performance.

He will talk about his own research on molecular synergy, initially undertaken at while he was a senior lecturer in Phytochemistry and Pharmacognosy at Middlesex University. He will also perform some of his own music as a professional saxophonist and music producer specialising in instrumental music that is deeply relaxing. He will review how synergism has diverged in music and medicine from medieval times to being rejoined in the 21st century.

The event will also include stunning visual projections to accompany the music and lecture.

He will be joined by his partner Kesia Trench who is a biologist and a musician (bass player).


Dr Wilkinson is an organic chemist and obtained his PhD from Imperial College, University of London and then was awarded the prestigious SERC NATO postdoctoral fellowship where he undertook research in natural products found in the outer atmospheres of certain stars – the so called “carbon-rich red giants”  with  the Nobel Prize winner Professor George Olah in California, USA. He then went on to programme lead the Western World’s first BSc degree in herbal medicine in 1994 at Middlesex University. Since then he has undertaken research into medicinal plants and new nutritional fruits and also works as a consultant in the regulatory approval of herbal medicines, supplements and novel foods. He is also a musician and started playing the saxophone from the age of 16 and after a gap where science began taking up all his time, commenced playing again in 2008. He turned professional 4 years ago and has been giving concerts around the world, specialising in jazz influenced ambient electronica and creating music for deep peace and relaxation.

Kesia Trench undertook her degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and then a 3-year Masters of Science degree at Colorado State University, USA. She then worked as an environmental and marine science policy adviser in various areas within DEFRA,  Westminster, London.

A passionate lover of the natural world and medicine (her father and others in her extended family are physicians in Brazil), she now undertakes research in botanical medicines with Dr Wilkinson. She is also a musician and plays the U-bass and does live music programming at their concerts. Kesia has been practicing tai chi and yoga for a long time and has a natural affinity for performing their blissful relaxing music they create together.

For more information on Dr Wilkinson, see:

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