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Scientists prepare synthesis Madagascan cancer-fighting plants

WASHINGTON United States (Xinhua) -- Plant scientists at UK’s John Innes Centre unravel the complex chemistry of Madagascar periwinkle that opens up the potential for rapid synthesis of cancer-fighting compounds.

In a study published on Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers led by Sarah O’Connor, identified the last missing genes in the genome of the periwinkle that are devoted to building the chemical vinblastine after 15 years of research.

This valuable natural product has been used as an anti-cancer drug since it was discovered in the 1950s.

Found in the leaves of Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), it proved to be a potent inhibitor of cell division and used against lymphomas and testicular, breast, bladder and lung cancers.

However, access to its life-extending chemistry has been laborious.

It takes approximately 500 kilograms of dried leaves to produce 1 gram of vinblastine.

O’Connor’s team used modern genome sequencing techniques to identify enzymes that build vinblastine precursor chemicals, which include catharanthine and tabersonine.

These can be readily chemically coupled using synthetic biology techniques to give vinblastine, according to the researchers.

"Vinblastine is one of of the most structurally complex medicinally active natural products in plants," said O’Connor.


.Scientists prepare synthesis Madagascan cancer-fighting plants | Coastweek

Catharanthus roseus, commonly known as the Madagascar periwinkle, Rose Periwinkle, or rosy periwinkle, is a species of flowering plant in the dogbane family Apocynaceae. It is native and endemic to Madagascar, but grown elsewhere as an ornamental and medicinal plant, a source of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat cancer. Other English names include ‘"Cape periwinkle" and "old-maid". WIKIPEDIA PHOTO - HITROMILANES
"With this information we can now try to increase the amount of vinblastine produced either in the plant, or by placing synthetic genes into hosts such as yeast or plants."

Having assembled the genetic pathway and the chemical structures, the team are now in a position to use the information to create more compounds much more quickly using synthetic biology techniques.

O’Connor anticipated that her group or another in this competitive field would be able to produce microgram quantities of vinblastine or its precursors, namely vindoline or catharanthine, in the next 12 to 18 months.



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