Turning plants into medicine factories—18 March 2018

The potential to produce cheaper medicines on a large scale within edible plants including lettuce and canola has taken a significant step forward with findings from newly published research led by Australian Research Council (ARC) researchers from La Trobe University and at The University of Queensland.

The researchers have proved that a key enzyme previously identified by the team is effective in converting short, linear proteins into chemically stable circular ones called cyclotides, which are a leading candidate for the development of drugs such as painkillers and cancer treatments.

While they can be made artificially using sophisticated chemical methods, the process is expensive and has low yields. Lead researcher Professor Marilyn Anderson and her team have now been able to produce cyclotides in the Australian native tobacco, Nicotiana benthamiana, which has been adopted globally as a biofactory for protein-based pharmaceuticals.

“We have now proved that using the right enzyme improves the process of creating robust cyclotides from the linear peptides from which they originated,” Professor Anderson said.

“Working with the biotechnology company Hexima Ltd, we have shown that this technology works in common plants including tobacco, bush bean, lettuce and canola.”

Co-author and 2015 ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor David Craik from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said the research findings create exciting possibilities for genetically modifying plants to grow fields of low-cost medicines in developing countries.

“Cyclotides have the potential to create a revolution in medicine, and particularly in developing countries where medicines need to be both affordable and maintained in an active form through transport and storage,” Professor Craik said.

Media issued by La Trobe University.


Image: Nicoatiana benthamiana (Australian native tobacco) is widely used by the scientific community in plant research and has been adopted globally as a biofactory for protein-based pharmaceuticals.
Source: Wikimedia Commons (Pubic Domain)

Original Published Date: 
Sunday, March 18, 2018