Unusual fungal metabolites with antitumor activity discovered by crowdsourcing

December 11, 2013
Unusual fungal metabolites with antitumor activity discovered by crowdsourcing

(Phys.org) —Since the discovery of penicillin, fungi have been a nearly inexhaustible source for the discovery of new drugs. "Crowdsourcing", the cooperation of a large number of interested nonscientists, has helped to find a new fungus from which American researchers have now isolated and characterized an unusual metabolite with interesting antitumor activity.

To date, fewer than 7 % of the more than 1.5 million species of thought to exist have been investigated for bioactive components. To change this situation, a research group headed by Robert H. Cichewicz at the University of Oklahoma has prepared a collection of several thousand fungal isolates from three regions: arctic Alaska, tropical Hawaii, and subtropical to semiarid Oklahoma. The fungal extracts were analyzed and subjected to biological tests, including antitumor activity, by Susan L. Mooberry at the University of Texas at San Antonio. This resulted in the of a number of interesting substances.

The researchers soon realized that the efforts of a single research team were insufficient to acquire samples representing the immense diversity of the thousands of fungi they hoped to test. Therefore, the team turned to a "" approach, in which lay people with an interest in science, known as "", were invited to take part in the collection process by submitting soil samples from their properties. Crowdsourcing is becoming an increasingly important tool, giving research groups access to information and samples that could otherwise not be subjected to scientific study. Crowdsourcing has previously been used in a variety of projects, including the analysis of historic weather data and the classification of newly discovered galaxies.

Putting this approach into practice, the research team uncovered a new fungal strain identified as a Tolypocladium species in a crowdsourced soil sample from Alaska. The fungal isolate, which was identified by Andrew Miller at the University of Illinois, was highly responsive to changes in the way it was grown, leading to the production of several new compounds, including a unique metabolite with significant . This substance may represent a valuable new approach to cancer treatment because it avoids certain routes that lead to resistance.

To obtain this substance, a biosynthetic pathway that is not active under normal conditions was activated by the addition of specific chemicals, cultivation in a special medium, and in the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria. The scientists were able to isolate and characterize the metabolite they called maximiscin. Spectroscopic techniques revealed that maximiscin is a rather unusual structure, having been produced through a combination of diverse biosynthetic pathways unique to this fungus.

The researchers point out the essential roles that citizen scientists can play. "Many of the groundbreaking discoveries, theories, and applied research during the last two centuries were made by scientists operating from their own homes. Although much has changed, the idea that citizen scientists can still participate in research is a powerful means for reinvigorating the public's interest in science and making important discoveries," says Cichewicz.

Explore further: Could fungal collection hold the key to new life-saving drugs?

More information: Du L, Robles AJ, King JB, et al. "Crowdsourcing Natural Products Discovery to Access Uncharted Dimensions of Fungal Metabolite Diversity." Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2013. dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.201306549

Related Stories

Could fungal collection hold the key to new life-saving drugs?

June 13, 2007

Scientists may be one step closer to finding new drugs to fight MRSA, cancers and other diseases, after CABI, a leading bioservices organisation announced that its fungal collection will be screened by the University of Strathclyde.

Team sequencing 1,000 fungal genomes

November 7, 2011

A 79-year-old collection of fungal cultures and the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station are part of a team that will sequence 1,000 fungal genomes in the next 5 years.

New Danish fungal species discovered

September 4, 2012

A new fungal species, called Hebelomagriseopruinatum, has now officially been included in the list of species. The fungus, whose name can be translated into 'the grey-dewy tear leaf', was discovered on Zealand in Denmark ...

Fungi collection key in identifying diseases

July 30, 2013

A collection of fungi maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) played a crucial role in helping scientists identify the specific fungus causing an anthracnose disease discovered in a southern turf grass, and ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

Moonlighting molecules: Finding new uses for old enzymes

November 27, 2015

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has led researchers to identify a potentially significant new application for a well-known ...

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.