New Insights into the Biosynthesis of Medicinally Valuable Plant Steroids

New Insights into the Biosynthesis of Medicinally Valuable Plant Steroids

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology have made significant progress in understanding the biosynthetic pathway responsible for the formation of cardenolides in plants. In a recent study published in Nature Plants, they have identified two key enzymes, CYP87A, that catalyze the production of pregnenolone, a precursor for the biosynthesis of plant steroids.

Cardenolides are a class of medically valuable steroids obtained from plants. They have been used to treat heart failure and arrhythmia, and have also shown promise in the treatment of various cancers. However, the biosynthetic pathways for these compounds have remained largely unknown. The researchers aimed to uncover how plants synthesize these complex molecules.

The study focused on two plant species: foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and the rubber tree (Calotropis procera). Despite belonging to different plant families, both plants produce high levels of cardenolides. The researchers used comparative analysis of genomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic data to identify the enzymes responsible for the formation of pregnenolone.

The discovery of these enzymes has significant implications for the production of high-quality steroid compounds for medical use. The researchers believe that understanding the biosynthetic pathway will allow for the development of platforms for cheap and sustainable production.

The study also involved the modification of plants to produce more of the CYP87A enzymes. The genetically modified plants accumulated unusually high levels of pregnenolone, further confirming the role of these enzymes in the biosynthetic pathway.

The research team plans to continue studying the downstream steps of cardenolide biosynthesis and hope to solve this complex puzzle soon. By applying the latest sequencing, bioinformatics, and metabolomics methods, they aim to uncover the complete pathway.

The Department of Natural Product Biosynthesis at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, led by Sarah O’Connor, is dedicated to exploring the production of pharmaceutical compounds in plants. Their research aims to find more sustainable and efficient ways to extract these natural products.

Sources:
– Angela Overmeyer, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
– Maritta Kunert, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
– Prashant Sonawane, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

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