Researchers develop simple method to create natural drug products

Sep 04, 2007

Until now, only the intricate machinery inside cells could take a mix of enzyme ingredients, blend them together and deliver a natural product with an elaborate chemical structure such as penicillin. Researchers at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the University of Arizona have for the first time demonstrated the ability to mimic this process outside of a cell.

A team led by Qian Cheng and Bradley Moore of Scripps was able to synthesize an antibiotic natural product created by a Hawaiian sea sediment bacterium. They did so by combining a cocktail of enzymes, the protein catalysts inside cells, in a relatively simple mixing process inside a laboratory flask. The research paper, along with a companion study describing a similar process achieved at Harvard Medical School with anti-tumor products, is published in the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

“This study may signal the start of a new era in how drugs are synthesized,” said Moore, a professor in the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps. “Assembling all the enzymes together in a single reaction vessel is a different way to make a complex molecule.”

While much more work is needed to employ this process on a mass scale, the achievement proves that such synthesis is possible relatively cheaply and easily—without the use of man-made chemicals—otherwise known as “green” chemistry.

Most of the medicinal drugs on the market today are made synthetically. Researchers such as Moore and Scripps Oceanography’s Bill Fenical have looked to the oceans as rich sources of new natural products to potentially combat diseases such as cancer.

The antibiotic synthesized in Moore’s laboratory, called enterocin, was assembled in approximately two hours. Such a compound would normally take months if not a year to prepare chemically, according to Moore.

Rather than a “eureka” moment that led to the breakthrough, Moore said the process was achieved incrementally. The time-consuming work was spent beforehand identifying and preparing the enzymes that would ultimately catalyze the synthesis, also known as assembling the “biosynthetic pathway.”

“We’ve been preparing for some time now a ‘biological toolbox,’” said Moore. “In this new process the enzymes become the tools to do the synthesis.”

An article in Nature Chemical Biology by Robert Fecik of the University of Minnesota indicated that “… Moore and co-workers have now taken biosynthetic pathway reconstruction to a new level.”

The new research also carries the potential to combine certain natural enzymes to produce new molecules that typically cannot be found in nature with the goal of developing new drugs. Moore calls these “unnatural natural products.”

Source: University of California - San Diego

Explore further: Researchers bring clean energy a step closer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Would you like greens with that?

Feb 17, 2015

What if the greens you need for tonight's dinner were grown on the roof of the office where you work? From a cook's perspective this is a dream – fresh produce and no time wasted on shopping. And the advantages ...

Synthetic biology yields new approach to gene therapy

Feb 16, 2015

Bioengineers at The University of Texas at Dallas have created a novel gene-delivery system that shuttles a gene into a cell, but only for a temporary stay, providing a potential new gene-therapy strategy ...

Project at IBM looks to carbon nanotube future

Jul 02, 2014

How can miniaturization continue beyond the limits of current silicon-based device technology? A project at IBM aims to have transistors built using carbon nanotubes, ready to take over from silicon transistors ...

A thousand years of environmental change in Polynesia

Nov 14, 2014

Environmental change is nothing new in Polynesia. For centuries, the inhabitants of the volcanic, sea-battered islands have been employing a variety of strategies to adapt to their changing landscapes.

Recommended for you

Researchers bring clean energy a step closer

Feb 27, 2015

For nearly half a century, scientists have been trying to replace precious metal catalysts in fuel cells. Now, for the first time, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have shown that an inexpensive metal-free catalyst ...

The construction of ordered nanostructures from benzene

Feb 27, 2015

A way to link benzene rings together in a highly ordered three-dimensional helical structure using a straightforward polymerization procedure has been discovered by researchers from RIKEN Center for Sustainable ...

Superatomic nickel core and unusual molecular reactivity

Feb 27, 2015

A superatom is a combination of two or more atoms that form a stable structural fragment and possess unique physical and chemical properties. Systems, that contain superatoms, open a number of amazing possibilities ...

Oat breakfast cereals may contain a common mold-related toxin

Feb 25, 2015

Oats are often touted for boosting heart health, but scientists warn that the grain and its products might need closer monitoring for potential mold contamination. They report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that s ...

User comments : 0

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.