The evolutionary secrets that enable the medicinal herb known as barbed skullcap to produce cancer-fighting compounds have been unlocked by a collaboration of researchers from the UK and China.
The CEPAMS collaboration used DNA sequencing technology to assemble the genome sequence of the skull cap (Scutellaria barbata) known in China as banzhilian.
This gave researchers the genetic information — microevolutionary history — needed to identify how the plant produces the compound scutebarbatine A, which acts against a range of cancer cells.
Professor Cathie Martin, Group Leader at the John Innes Centre, and one of the authors of the study, said, “We have found that the main metabolite has activity against cancer cells but not non-cancer cells, which is very surprising. important for an anti-cancer metabolite. Now we are trying to develop synthetic methods to produce more of the lead compound.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to isolate a medicinal chemical from the plant, the herb is boiled in water for two hours and the extract is dried to produce a powder and taken as a decoction (concentrated liquid). Now, with the knowledge of the genes that make up the biochemical pathway behind the herb’s anti-cancer activity, researchers are close to being able to synthesize larger quantities of compounds more quickly and sustainably using a similar host with yeast.
The research that appears in the journal Molecular Plant it is led by CEPAMS, a partnership between the John Innes Center and the Chinese Academy of Sciences and supported by the Royal Society.
“This is a great collaboration for developing interesting drug leads from natural resources and demonstrates the practical value of focusing on the microevolution of species” said Professor Martin.
The Skullcap genus has been used for centuries in TCM for the treatment of various medical conditions. Clinical work has shown that preparations based on Scutellaria barbat During chemotherapy can reduce the risk of metastatic tumors.
Head of CEPAMS Group based in Shanghai, Dr. Evangelos Tatsis, said, “Natural products have long been key compounds in the discovery of new drugs. By following the trail of traditional Chinese plants, we can discover new anti-cancer medicines development and this research marks a crucial step in that direction.”
Traditional plant-based medicines have long been used to provide leads for new drug discovery, and natural plant products such as vinblastine and taxol are used clinically as anti-cancer drugs.
TCM is one of the best cataloging systems with empirical information about the therapeutic properties of herbal medicines.
Anti-cancer drugs obtained from traditional Chinese medicine have higher efficacy than synthetic chemical drugs and with less toxic side effects. The genome of medicinal skullcaps reveals the polyphyletic origin of diterpene clerodane biosynthesis in the family Laminiaceae, published in Molecular Plant