Plant Enzymes Discovered That Could Lead to new Drugs and Cancer Treatment

plant enzymes
Grape Enzymes could help treat colon cancer | Pixabay

Researchers at the John Innes Center discovered a trove of novel plant enzymes that enable new drug development possibilities.

Responsible for all the chemical reactions taking place at every moment within living cells, enzymes are vital tools without which life would be impossible.

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Enzymes are naturally-occurring molecules (a type of protein) produced by living organisms that are capable of catalyzing biochemical reactions. In other words, enzymes are biological substances that speed up the transformations of matter.

The Hunt for Novel Enzymes

The same reaction that could take several months takes mere seconds in the presence of enzymes. That means that even if biochemical reactions can take place without enzymes, they would be several million times slower.

Labs and research centers–aided by the dropping costs of genome sequencing–are in a constant search of novel enzymes. Whether from animal or plant sources, the discovery of these proteins can enhance a medicine’s ability to communicate with the body’s natural processes.

Enzymes, known to be extremely diverse, are highly sought after by various approaches. Discovering new enzymes would enable synthesizing new antibiotics, and, more specifically, will help advance the concept of personalized medicine.

Recently, a team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University showed that some compounds that occur naturally in grapes (thanks to enzymes) could lead to the development of a drug treatment for colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American males, and the third among women.

This isn’t the first time we’ve discovered shared enzymes in grapes, either.

The John Innes Center: Novel Enzymes to Fight Diseases

Founded in 1910, the John Innes Center (JIC), located in Norfolk, is an independent center for research and experimentation in plant science and microbiology.

One of the JIC’s six departments is Biological Chemistry that directs most of its research efforts toward the study of enzymes, DNA and other molecules in plants for environmental or industrial purposes.

Earlier this month, JIC’s researchers announced the discovery of previously unknown plant enzymes. According to a paper published in PNAS, plant enzymes, called “sesterterpene synthases”, were discovered using genome mining technology on 55 different plant species.

This suite of enzymes would enable scientists to synthesize new compounds that were inaccessible before and which can lead to the development of new drugs and medicines.

JIC’s research in enzymology has also led to the discovery of a new way to target drug-resistant bacteria.

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