The evolutionary secrets that allow the medicinal herb known as spikecap to produce cancer-fighting compounds have been uncovered by a collaboration of UK-Chinese researchers.
The CEPAMS collaboration used DNA sequencing technology to assemble the genomic sequence of skullcap (skullcap barbata) known in China as banzhilian.
This gave the researchers the genetic information, a microevolutionary history, needed to identify how the plant produces the compound scutebarbatine A, which works against a variety of cancer cells.
Professor Cathie Martin, Group Leader at the John Innes Center and one of the study authors, said: “We found that the main metabolite has activity against cancer cells, but not against non-cancer cells, which is especially important for an anticancer metabolite. We are now looking to develop synthetic methods to produce more of the lead compound.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to isolate the medicinal chemistry of the plant, the herb is boiled in water for two hours and 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 anticancer activity, researchers are close to being able to synthesize larger amounts of compounds more quickly and sustainably using a host like yeast.
Research featured in the journal molecular plant It is run by CEPAMS, a partnership between the John Innes Center and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and is supported by the Royal Society.
“This is a fantastic collaboration on developing interesting drugs from natural resources and shows the practical value of focusing on the microevolution of a species,” said Professor Martin.
The Skullcap genus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of different medical conditions. Clinical work has shown that preparations based on skullcap barbata during chemotherapy may reduce the risk of metastatic tumors.
Shanghai-based CEPAMS group leader Dr. Evangelos Tatsis said: “Natural products have long been the leading compounds for new drug discovery. By following the trail of traditional Chinese plants, we can develop new drugs against cancer and this research marks a milestone. crucial step in that direction.
Traditional herbal medicines have long been used to provide leads for new drug discovery, and natural plant products such as vinblastine and taxol are used clinically as anticancer drugs.
TCM is one of the best ranked systems with empirical information on the therapeutic properties of herbal remedies.
Cancer drugs derived from traditional Chinese medicine are more effective than chemical synthetic drugs and with less toxic side effects. Medicinal skullcap genomes reveal polyphyletic origins of clerodane diterpene biosynthesis in family Laminiaceae. molecular plant