Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Inside a plant’s pharma factory

Date:
May 16, 2012
Source:
RIKEN
Summary:
A newly discovered enzyme brings scientists one step closer to understanding how plants manufacture a molecule with potent medicinal properties. Plants of the genus Glycyrrhiza are best known as key ingredients in the popular treat licorice, but they also have a valuable place in the medicine cabinet.

Licorice.
Credit: Lsantilli / Fotolia

A newly discovered enzyme brings scientists one step closer to understanding how plants manufacture a molecule with potent medicinal properties. Plants of the genus Glycyrrhiza are best known as key ingredients in the popular treat licorice, but they also have a valuable place in the medicine cabinet.

Related Articles


These plants employ a complex assembly line of enzymes to produce a molecule called glycyrrhizin, a potent sweetener that also acts as a highly effective anti-inflammatory and antiviral agent.

The process of glycyrrhizin biosynthesis is incompletely understood, but research from a team led by Kazuki Saito and Toshiyuki Muranaka at the RIKEN Plant Science Center in Yokohama helps to fill some of the gaps. According to Saito, these efforts depended on close collaboration between multiple research teams. Members of the 'All-Japan Licorice Research Consortium', pooled their research resources, which was the strong basis for the success of this project, according to Saito.

The researchers were particularly interested in enzymes known as cytochrome P450 mono-oxygenases. For a previous study, they prepared a large library of gene sequences expressed by Glycyrrhiza to identify previously uncharacterized P450s. This time around, Saito and Muranaka performed a functional assay in which they expressed several of these putative P450s in cultured cells so they could identify enzymes that act on specific intermediates in glycyrrhizin manufacture.

They identified one protein, CYP72A154, which recognized the early glycyrrhizin intermediate 11-oxo-β-amyrin as a substrate. Remarkably, this enzyme appears to perform multiple sequential oxidation reactions on this compound, effectively moving the synthetic process forward three steps. To confirm these findings, they tested the function of CYP72A154 by co-expressing it alongside other enzymes known to participate in this biological process. "We achieved biotechnological production of glycyrrhetinic acid, an intermediate of glycyrrhizin, by means of synthetic biology in yeast," says Muranaka.

This demonstration of partial glycyrrhizin biosynthesis represents an important step in the right direction: even though this valuable molecule is easily purified from licorice plants, scientists may ultimately find themselves forced to resort to laboratory production methods. "There is a potential risk of a shortage of natural resources in the near future," says Saito. "Another problem is that China, the dominant supplier of licorice, is setting restrictions on licorice exports as a governmental policy."

Several pieces are still missing from the puzzle, but Saito and Muranaka are excited to learn what remains to be found, both from a biotechnology perspective and in terms of understanding aspects of plant evolutionary history. "We still don't know why and how higher plants have evolved the production systems for such interesting compounds," says Muranaka.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by RIKEN. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. H. Seki, K. Ohyama, S. Sawai, M. Mizutani, T. Ohnishi, H. Sudo, T. Akashi, T. Aoki, K. Saito, T. Muranaka. Licorice -amyrin 11-oxidase, a cytochrome P450 with a key role in the biosynthesis of the triterpene sweetener glycyrrhizin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008; 105 (37): 14204 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803876105
  2. H. Seki, S. Sawai, K. Ohyama, M. Mizutani, T. Ohnishi, H. Sudo, E. O. Fukushima, T. Akashi, T. Aoki, K. Saito, T. Muranaka. Triterpene Functional Genomics in Licorice for Identification of CYP72A154 Involved in the Biosynthesis of Glycyrrhizin. The Plant Cell, 2011; 23 (11): 4112 DOI: 10.1105/tpc.110.082685

Cite This Page:

RIKEN. "Inside a plant’s pharma factory." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120516092558.htm>.
RIKEN. (2012, May 16). Inside a plant’s pharma factory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120516092558.htm
RIKEN. "Inside a plant’s pharma factory." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120516092558.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) You've probably seen some weird-looking dinosaurs, but have you ever seen one this weird? It's worth a look. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins