One of the goals of cancer chemotherapy and prevention is the discovery of compounds that are relatively selective to tumor cells and, therefore, have reduced effects on normal cell growth. In previously published studies, it was shown that certain triterpene saponins (called avicins) from a desert tree, Acacia victoriae, are selectively toxic to tumor cells at very low doses (IC(50): 0.2 microg/mL for Jurkat cells). To extend this research to human clinical studies, we needed to find a reliable supply of avicins and have developed a transformed "hairy root" culture as a means of biomass production. Protocols were optimized for A. victoriae micropropagation; after a boiling water treatment, A. victoriae seeds were maintained under in vitro conditions on defined media. Embryo-axis explants from shoot tips were removed and infected with Agrobacterium rhizogenes Conn (R 1000) for hairy root induction. Plasmid integration was confirmed by PCR analysis with a primer set for a segment of the rol B gene. Culture conditions have been optimized for root biomass production, and various inducers have been investigated for enhancement of avicin production. Hairy root cultures were compared with intact pod tissue from field-grown sources for avicin content following partial purification of triterpene glycosides and HPLC separation of the secondary metabolites. From bioassays of the collected HPLC fractions, we have identified putative triterpene "metabolic clusters" with enhanced activity against tumor cells. This now provides a system for both production of clinical trial lots of active samples, but also a means to correlate structure of individual triterpene glycosides with specific cellular target activity in mammalian cells.