The key to releasing the power of these plants is to increase the amount of compound produced or synthesize the compound for drug development.
Although thyme and oregano include an anti-cancer chemical that inhibits tumor development, adding more to your tomato sauce won’t provide a major advantage. The key to releasing the power of these plants is to increase the amount of compound produced or synthesize the compound for drug development.
By identifying its biosynthetic pathway, researchers at Purdue University have taken the first step toward employing the molecule as a medicinal ingredient.
“These plants contain important compounds, but the amount is very low and extraction won’t be enough,” says Natalia Dudareva.
“By understanding how these compounds are formed, we open a path to engineering plants with higher levels of them or to synthesizing the compounds in microorganisms for medical use.
“It is an amazing time for plant science right now. We have tools that are faster, cheaper and provide much more insight. It is like looking inside the cell; it is almost unbelievable.”
Thymol, carvacrol, and thymohydroquinone are taste chemicals found in thyme, oregano, and other Lamiaceae plants. They also have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other health-promoting qualities. Thymohydroquinone has been demonstrated to have anti-cancer capabilities, which is why it is of particular interest, according to Dudareva, who is also the head of Purdue’s Center for Plant Biology.
Scientists from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and Michigan State University helped the team figure out how to make thymohydroquinone, which includes the formation of its precursors thymol and carvacrol, as well as the short-lived intermediate compounds that were made along the way.
The findings challenge existing assumptions about the creation of this class of chemicals, known as phenolic or aromatic monoterpenes, for which only a few biosynthetic pathways in other plants have been revealed, she noted.
“These findings provide new targets for engineering high-value compounds in plants and other organisms,” adds Pan Liao, co-first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in Dudareva’s lab.
“Not only do many plants contain medicinal properties, but the compounds within them are used as food additives and for perfumes, cosmetics and other products.”
Plant scientists can now build cultivars that produce far more beneficial substances or incorporate them into microorganisms, such as yeast, for production.
According to him, the latter method entails a fermentation process to acquire useful components, as is the case with many plant-based products.
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Image Credit: Getty
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