California – A recent study from Stanford University published in the Science magazine managed to genetically engineer a common tobacco laboratory plant to produce an anti-cancer compound.
A plant named Himalayan mayapple has been known to produce an anti-cancer compound (podophyllotoxin) that is frequently used to create the anti-cancer drug called Etoposide. However the Himalayan mayapple grows slowly, usually been considered an endangered plant, and not all of the mayapple contain the compound. So the availability of podophyllotoxin was indeed rare.
Decided to exploit the benefits of the Himalayan mayapple but overcoming the downside of its long-time grown period, a group of scientist from Stanford University have managed to create a genetically engineered common laboratory plant (Nicotiana benthamiana), a relative of tobacco that can now produce the compound.
What the researchers did was to make small punctures to the leaves of the plant. They knew podophyllotoxin is made as a defense mechanism from possible predators. When the plant is injured, it triggers proteins and synthesizes chemicals that create podophyllotoxin.
“People have been grinding up plants to find new chemicals and testing their activity for a really long time,” said Elizabeth Sattely, lead author and chemical engineer from Stanford University.
The study proves a new victory for synthetic biology by overcoming the frequent difficulties that scientist face when obtaining drugs from plants. Also, it can now accelerate the production of Etoposide that has been in the market since 1983 but always restrained by the Himalayan mayapple slow growing and scarcity.
Source: Science Now