Plant spills crucial details for making cancer drug

Himalayan mayapple

POWERFUL PERSUASION  By putting the squeeze on the Himalayan mayapple (shown), researchers figured out the enzymatic recipe for a compound needed to make a common cancer drug.

Pekaje/Wikimedia Commons

To easily make drugs, try injuring a plant.

By roughing up the Himalayan mayapple (Podophyllum hexandrum), scientists coaxed out the previously unknown enzymes that make a precursor to the cancer drug etoposide, researchers report in the Sept. 11 Science.

Researchers typically grind the slow-growing plant to extract the precursor, which the plant deploys to defend against attacks. By wounding the plant, the team could finger the enzymatic machinery that the mayapple quickly assembles to make the defensive compound.

Knowing the manufacturing process for the precursor, researchers can now engineer lab-friendly organisms, such as yeast, to easily make the compound. Researchers can also use the violent method to discover and improve production of other drugs derived from plants.

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