Inside a plant’s pharma factory
A newly discovered enzyme brings scientists one step closer to understanding how plants manufacture a molecule with potent medicinal properties
Plants of the genus Glycyrrhiza are best known as key ingredients in the popular treat licorice, but they also have a valuable place in the medicine cabinet. These plants employ a complex assembly line of enzymes to produce a molecule called glycyrrhizin, a potent sweetener that also acts as a highly effective anti-inflammatory and antiviral agent.
The process of glycyrrhizin biosynthesis is incompletely understood, but research from a team led by Kazuki Saito and Toshiyuki Muranaka at the RIKEN Plant Science Center in Yokohama helps to fill some of the gaps. According to Saito, these efforts depended on close collaboration between multiple research teams. Members of the ‘All-Japan Licorice Research Consortium’, pooled their research resources, which was the strong basis for the success of this project, according to Saito.
The researchers were particularly interested in enzymes known as cytochrome P450 mono-oxygenases. For a previous study, they prepared a large library of gene sequences expressed by Glycyrrhiza to identify previously uncharacterized P450s2. This time around, Saito and Muranaka performed a functional assay in which they expressed several of these putative P450s in cultured cells so they could identify enzymes that act on specific intermediates in glycyrrhizin manufacture.
They identified one protein, CYP72A154, which recognized the early glycyrrhizin intermediate 11-oxo-â-amyrin as a substrate. Remarkably, this enzyme appears to perform multiple sequential oxidation reactions on this compound, effectively moving the synthetic process forward three steps. To confirm these findings, they tested the function of CYP72A154 by co-expressing it alongside other enzymes known to participate in this biological process. “We achieved biotechnological production of glycyrrhetinic acid, an intermediate of glycyrrhizin, by means of synthetic biology in yeast,” says Muranaka.
This demonstration of partial glycyrrhizin biosynthesis represents an important step in the right direction: even though this valuable molecule is easily purified from licorice plants, scientists may ultimately find themselves forced to resort to laboratory production methods. “There is a potential risk of a shortage of natural resources in the near future,” says Saito. “Another problem is that China, the dominant supplier of licorice, is setting restrictions on licorice exports as a governmental policy.”
Several pieces are still missing from the puzzle, but Saito and Muranaka are excited to learn what remains to be found, both from a biotechnology perspective and in terms of understanding aspects of plant evolutionary history. “We still don’t know why and how higher plants have evolved the production systems for such interesting compounds,” says Muranaka.
The corresponding author for this highlight is based at the Metabolomic Function Research Group, RIKEN Plant Science Center
gro-pr | Research asia research news
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.
In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...