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Basic (seebase) organic compounds of plant origin, containing combined nitrogen. Alkaloids are amines, so their names usually end in ine (e.g., caffeine, nicotine, morphine, quinine). Most have complex chemical structures of multiple ring systems. They have diverse, important physiological effects on humans and other animals, but their functions in the plants that produce them are poorly understood. Some plants (e.g., opium poppy, ergot fungus) produce many different alkaloids, but most produce only one or a few. Certain plant families, including the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and the nightshade family (Solanaceae), are particularly rich in them. Alkaloids are extracted by dissolving the plant in dilute acid.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on alkaloid, visit Britannica.com.