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2015-10-18. By Kelly.
Fig. 1. The image is from AAAS Oct. 2015 Ashley Cooper/Alamy The Himalayan mayapple was the original source of Etoposide, a powerful anticancer compound. Downloaded on 2015-10-18 from http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/09/genetic-engineering-turns-common-plant-cancer-fighter.
The Himalayan Mayapple (Podophyllum) plant was recently highlighted in the Oct 4, 2015 of the Science(AAAS). Two scientists, Lau and Sattely recently reported their finding of biosynthetic enzymes that possibly will be used to combat cancer. The Mayapple "produces a compound that is a direct precursor to etoposide". An etoposide is derived from podophyllotoxin which is a toxin found in the Mayapple plants to protect the plant against insects. This phytotoxin forms as ternary complex with DNA and topoisomerase which cause DNA strands to break. However unlike the synthetic drug being used today, this study demonstrates that the plant has the etoposide precursor, natural analogs that will enhance its pharmacological value. Other naturally occurring etoposide options such as the happy tree and the yew tree derivatives have to be modified to make them more water soluble. Due to these modifications, the drugs have side effects or changes in the biological mode of action.
Lau and Settely were able to isolate the genes responsible for encoding the podophyllotixin biosynthesis and transform the genes into heterogologous host, the fast growing tobacco plant (Nicotiana benthamiana). By expressing multiple genes at once in the tobacco plant, Lau and Settely were able to identify the compounds formed by the targeted genes in the leaf tissue. Their study suggests that they have been able to express the genes responsible for creating the etoposide compound in fewer steps then the podophyllotoxin precursor. It will be interesting to follow the Mayapple (Podophyllum) plant study into the drug testing and production stages.
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