The evolutionary secrets that enable the medicinal herb known as skullcap to produce cancer-fighting compounds have been revealed through a collaboration between British and Chinese researchers.
The CEPAMS collaboration used DNA sequencing technology to assemble the genetic sequence of skullcap (Scutellaria barbata) known in China as banzhilian.
This gave the researchers the genetic information — a micro-evolutionary history — needed to determine how the plant produces the compound scotebarbatin A, which works against a range of cancer cells.
Professor Cathy Martin, group leader at the John Innes Centre, and one of the study’s authors, said, “We found that the protometabolite has activity against cancer cells but not non-cancerous cells which is particularly important for an anti-cancer metabolite. Now we are looking to develop synthetic methods to produce More lead compounds.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to isolate medicinal chemistry from the plant, the herbs are boiled in water for two hours and then the extract is dried to produce a powder and taken as a decoction (concentrated liquid). Now, with knowledge of the genes that make up the biochemical pathway behind the herb’s anti-cancer activity, researchers are moving closer to being able to manufacture larger amounts of the compounds more quickly and sustainably using a host like yeast.
Research that appears in the journal molecular plant It is led by CEPAMS, a partnership between the John Innes Center and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“This is a fascinating collaboration on the development of interesting drugs driven from natural resources and shows the practical value of focusing on the microevolution of species,” said Professor Martin.
The Skullcap genus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat various medical conditions. Clinical work has shown that preparations based on Scutellaria barbata during chemotherapy can reduce the risk of metastasis.
CEPAMS Group Chairman Shanghai Dr. Evangelos Tatsis said: “Natural products have always been the main vehicles for discovering new drugs. By following the path of traditional Chinese plants, we can develop new anti-cancer drugs and these research markers. This is a crucial step in this direction.”
Traditional medicines extracted from plants have long been used to provide clues for new drug discovery, and plant natural products such as vinblastine and taxol are used clinically as anti-cancer drugs.
Traditional chinese medicine is one of the systems best indexed with empirical information about the therapeutic properties of herbal remedies.
Anti-cancer drugs obtained from traditional Chinese medicine can have higher efficacy than synthetic chemo drugs and less toxic side effects. The study has been published in molecular plant
Haixiu Li et al, Medicinal cap genomes reveal the polykinetic origins of clerodane diterpene biosynthesis in the family Lamiaceae. molecular plant (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.molp.2023.01.006. www.cell.com/molecular-plant/f… 1674-2052 (23) 00006-0
Provided by John Innes Center
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