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Anthraquinones are a class of naturally occurring chemicals prized for their medicinal properties, as well as for other programs, including ecologically friendly dyes. Despite broad interest, the mechanism by which plants produce them has remained shrouded in mystery until today.
New work from an international group of scientists including Carnegie’s Sue Rhee shows a gene responsible for anthraquinone synthesis in plants.
Their findings could help scientists cultivate a plant-based mechanism for harvesting these useful compounds in bulk quantities.
So, led by Sang-Ho Kang of the Korean National Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Ramesh Prasad Pandey of Sun Moon University and MIT, the research team used an array of advanced genetic and biochemical approaches to identify the first known anthranoid-forming enzyme in plants.
Senna tora is a legume with anthraquinone-based medicinal properties that have long been recognized in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions, including antimicrobial and antiparasitic benefits, as well as diabetes and neurodegenerative disease prevention.”
Sue Rhee, Carnegie Institution for Science
“Now that we’ve established the first step of the ladder, we could move quickly to elucidate the full suite of genes involved in the synthesis of anthraquinone,” said lead author Kang.
Once the process by which plants make these important compounds is fully known, this knowledge can be used to engineer a plant to produce high concentrations of anthraquinones that could be used medicinally.
“The exact techniques that we use to help improve the returns of agricultural or biofuel plants can also be applied to developing sustainable production techniques for plant-based medicines,” Rhee concluded.
Carnegie Institution for Science
Kang, S-H., et al. (2020) Genome-enabled discovery of anthraquinone biosynthesis in Senna tora. Nature Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19681-1.