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Friday, 16 December 2011

Genetic blueprint of medicinal plants captured


Scientists are set to release all the data they have so far on the genetic blueprint of medicinal plants and what beneficial properties are encoded by the genes identified.

The resources follow a 6 million dollars initiative to study how plant genes contribute to producing various chemical compounds, some of which are medicinally important.

“Our major goal has been to capture the genetic blueprints of medicinal plants for the advancement of drug discovery and development,” said Joe Chappell, professor of plant biochemistry in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and coordinator for the Medicinal Plant Consortium (MPC).

Project partner Dr Sarah O’Connor at the John Innes Centre will now work with her research group towards the first full genetic sequence of a medicinal plant and will also experiment with combining beneficial properties from different plants to create the first new-to-nature compounds derived from plants. A priority focus will be compounds with anticancer activity.

During this two-year project researchers set out to develop a collection of data that would aid in understanding how plants make chemicals, a process called biosynthesis. This knowledge ultimately could make it possible to engineer plants to produce larger quantities of medicinally useful compounds as well as different versions with other therapeutic potential.

To develop the resources, the researchers studied the genes and chemical profiles of 14 plants known for medicinal properties or compounds with biological activity. These included plants such as foxglove, ginseng, and periwinkle.

The findings will help researchers discover how nature’s chemical diversity is created and enable them to uncover new drug candidates or increase the efficacy of existing ones.

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