Madagascar periwinkle engineered to produce anti-cancer compound

January 20th, 2009 - 2:33 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 20 (ANI): In a breakthrough study, MIT researchers have successfully engineered plants to produce entirely compounds that can be used as drugs against cancer.

The researchers have genetically altered plants into create chemicals they do not naturally make. The plant-produced compounds include molecules similar to cancer drugs.

“Plants already make compounds for us,” New Scientist quoted Sarah O”Connor, a biochemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as saying.

“The question is can we try to manipulate those pathways a little bit to get them to make variations on some of those compounds,” she added.

For the study the researchers used Madagascar periwinkle. The pink- and white-flowers produces at least 130 toxic alkaloid compounds, which protects it from insects, microbes, and herbivores.

One such chemical, vinblastine, which stymies cell division, and is commonly used as a drug to treat lymphomas.

By manipulating a key enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway for these compounds, researchers were able to produce a range of halogenated alkaloids that aren”t produced in nature.

According to O”Connor, the resulting alkaloids vary only slightly from the compounds the periwinkle makes naturally, but such tweaks could prove useful for improving medicines that plants already make.

The study appears in Nature Chemical Biology. (ANI)

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