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: New technique reveals immune cell motion through variety of tissues

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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.

How beetles hack into ant colonies

Nov 03, 2014

Pretending to be one of them, ant-nest beetles trick ants to rear their brood—and then reward their hosts by devouring them. UA entomologists have discovered that the beetles evolve at an astonishing rate.

Figuring out how we get the nitrogen we need

Oct 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —Nitrogen is an essential component of all living systems, playing important roles in everything from proteins and nucleic acids to vitamins. It is the most abundant element in Earth's atmosphere ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

'Global positioning' for molecules

Dec 19, 2014

In everyday life, the global positioning system (GPS) can be employed to reliably determine the momentary location of one en route to the desired destination. Scientists from the Institute of Physical and ...

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.