Making Medicine Runs in the Family: The Evolution of Medicinal Plant Compounds

May 19, 2020 | Biology

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What do the painkillers morphine and codeine, the cancer chemotherapy drug vinblastine, the popular brain health supplement salidroside, and a plethora of other important medicines have in common? They are all produced in plants through processes that rely on the same family of enzymes, the aromatic amino acid decarboxylases (AAADs). Plants, which have limited ability to physically react to their environments, have instead evolved to produce a stunning array of chemicals that allow them to do things like deter pests, attract pollinators, and adapt to changing environmental conditions. A lot of these molecules have also turned out to be useful in medicine—but it's unusual for one family of enzymes to be responsible for so many different molecules of importance to both plants and humans. New research from Whitehead Institute Member Jing-Ke Weng, who is also an associate professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and postdoctoral researcher Michael Torrens-Spence delves into the science behind the AAADs' unusual generative capacity... Find the complete article at the Phys.Org Blog.

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