While plants such as thyme and oregano are known to have an anti-cancer compound that can suppress tumor development, the amount found in these plants is not enough to treat the disease. A team of researchers led by Purdue University in the UK says the key to unlocking the therapeutic potential of these plants is to increase the amount of the compound they create, or synthesize it in the lab.
“These plants contain important compounds, but their numbers are very low and extraction will not be enough,” said study co-leader Natalia Dudareva, an eminent professor of biochemistry at the University. “By understanding how these compounds are formed, we open the way to creating plants with higher levels of them, or to synthesizing the compounds in microorganisms for use in medicine.”
Thymol, carvacrol, and thymohydroquinone are aromatic compounds from thyme, oregano, and other herbs in the Lamiaceae family that have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties that are very beneficial to human health. Among them, thymohydroquinone has been found to have significant anti-cancer properties.
Together with colleagues from the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg in Germany and the University of Michigan in the USA, Professor Dudareva revealed the biosynthetic pathway for the formation of thymohydroquinone. Using RNA sequencing and correlation analysis, the scientists tested more than 80,000 genes from plant tissue samples and identified those needed to form this unusual compound.
“These results represent new targets for the development of valuable compounds in plants and other organisms,” said study co-author Pang Liao, a research fellow in Prof. Dudareva’s laboratory at Purdue University. “Many plants not only have medicinal properties but the compounds they contain are used as food additives, as well as in perfumes, cosmetics and other products.”
According to Professor Dudareva, the results of this study can be applied to understand the biochemical composition of other plant species and evaluate their potential therapeutic use.
“We as scientists are always comparing paths in different systems and plants,” she explained. “We are always looking for new opportunities. The more we learn, the more we are able to recognize the similarities and differences that could be the key to the next breakthrough.”
At this stage, oregano and creeping thyme can only help in the prevention of cancer, but in the future, based on these species, it is possible to create a species with a modified genome for the production of a drug for oncology.
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