Unusual sugar from cyanobacteria acts as natural herbicide

February 1, 2019, Universitaet Tübingen
Cyanobacteria in the lab: The new active ingredient was isolated from cultures of the freshwater cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus. Credit: Klaus Brilisauer

Researchers at the University of Tübingen have discovered a natural substance that could compete with the controversial herbicide glyphosate: a newly discovered sugar molecule synthesized from cyanobacteria that inhibits the growth of various microorganisms and plants but is harmless to humans and animals. The joint study was led by Dr. Klaus Brilisauer, Professor Stephanie Grond (Institute of Organic Chemistry) and Professor Karl Forchhammer (Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine). It was published in the journal Nature Communications on Friday.

Active ingredients for pharmaceutical or agricultural use often originate from natural substances. These substances can consist of complex chemical structures, but can also be relatively simple. The ingenuity of such often lies in their simplicity: Antimetabolites interact with vital processes in the cell by mimicking metabolic products. This disrupts the biological process, which can inhibit or even kill the cell.

Chemists and microbiologists at the University of Tübingen discovered an unusual antimetabolite with a simple chemical structure: a with the scientific name 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose (7dSh). Unlike ordinary carbohydrates, which usually serve as an energy source for growth, this substance inhibits the growth of plants and microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeasts. The sugar molecule blocks a key enzyme of the shikimate pathway, a metabolic pathway that occurs only in microorganisms and plants. For this reason, the scientists classify the substance as harmless for humans and animals, and have already demonstrated this in initial studies.

Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings after germination and 7-day growth: While the control group (left) developed normally, growth was inhibited by 260 µM glyphosate (figure below) or 7dSh (fig-ure above). (scaling identical in all images) Image: Klaus Brilisauer

The rare deoxy sugar was isolated from cultures of the freshwater cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus, which is able to inhibit the growth of related bacterial strains. While searching for the cause of this growth inhibition, scientists deciphered the structure of the natural compound. Through a newly developed method for the production of 7dSh – a chemoenzymatic synthesis – the scientists were able to conduct extensive studies to determine the molecular mechanism of 7dSh.

The scientists used coupled high-resolution mass spectrometry to obtain precise insights into the inhibition mechanism and discovered that 7dSh blocks Dehydroquinatesynthase (DHQS), an enzyme of the shikimate pathway. One of the best-known inhibitors of this metabolic pathway to date is the controversial herbicide glyphosate. "In contrast to glyphosate, the newly discovered deoxy sugar is an entirely natural product that is believed to have good degradability and low ecotoxicity," says Dr. Klaus Brilisauer. So far, 7dSh inhibits plant growth promisingly. "We see an excellent opportunity here to use it as a natural herbicide."

Scientists hope to replace controversial herbicides in the and thus reduce herbicide metabolites, which pose a health risk. However, effectiveness in the field, degradability in the soil and harmlessness to livestock and humans would have to be further investigated in comprehensive long-term studies for 7dSh.

Unusual sugar from cyanobacteria acts as natural herbicide
Chemical structure of 7dSh. Credit: Klaus Brilisauer

Explore further: Honey bees, already at risk, face a new threat from a common herbicide

More information: Klaus Brilisauer et al. Cyanobacterial antimetabolite 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose blocks the shikimate pathway to inhibit the growth of prototrophic organisms, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-08476-8

Related Stories

Sweet lysine degradation

November 29, 2018

Researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Biology at the University of Konstanz have gained fundamental new insights into the degradation of the amino acid lysine—carcinogenic oncometabolites as intermediate products

War on weeds takes toll on beneficial bacteria in the soil

October 24, 2017

As farmers battle in their above-ground war on weeds, they may inadvertently create underground casualties – unintentionally attacking the beneficial bacteria that help crops guard against enemy fungus, according to Cornell ...

Recommended for you

Light-based production of drug-discovery molecules

February 18, 2019

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) cells are widely studied for the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels. They use photocathodes and photoanodes to "split" water into hydrogen and oxygen respectively. PEC cells can work ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
not rated yet Feb 01, 2019
Scientists hope to replace controversial herbicides in the long term and thus reduce herbicide metabolites, which pose a health risk.{{ However, effectiveness in the field, degradability in the soil and harmlessness to livestock and humans would have to be further investigated in comprehensive long-term studies for 7dSh.
}}


This begs the question: Exactly how much by way of "comprehensive long-term study" was required of Monsanto or Dow before rolling out glyphosate or dicamba?

Predictably, even a begged question can be an rhetorical one.

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.