Forest soil could yield new drugs

Forest soil could yield new drugs

Forest soil could yield new drugsEnzyme from soil microbes might help treat a type of leukaemia in children

Scientists are trying to harness the microbial diversity of the forest soil in the Western Ghats to develop new drugs for diseases.

A team of scientists from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology here have come up with a novel enzyme that could be used for treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), a common type of blood cancer seen in children. The team from the Environmental Biology laboratory at the RGCB isolated the Asparaginase enzyme from bacterial communities in the soil collected from the forested regions in Thiruvananthapuram district.

The commercially available Asparaginase enzyme, widely used for treatment of ALL, is derived from E.coli bacteria which can be easily cultured in the laboratory. But several side effects have been reported in patients, triggering a search for new versions of the enzyme.

Minimal side effects

The research team led by K. Harikrishnan employed the science of metagenomics to isolate the novel Asparaginase enzyme from forest soil. Preliminary studies revealed that the recombinant enzyme possesses better efficiency with minimal side effects and can be developed as a potential drug for leukaemia therapy.

The findings have been published in the journal Biotechnology Letters. “Since the enzyme is produced by a cloned bacterium, large-scale production is possible,” says Dr. Harikrishnan. “A large number of the bacteria found in nature are key sources for biomolecules beneficial to mankind. But most of them cannot be cultured in the laboratory.”

The metagenomics approach depends on advanced molecular biological techniques to analyse the genetic information available in the collective DNA of bacterial communities extracted from an environmental sample. “By direct extraction and cloning of DNA from an assemblage of microorganisms, it becomes possible to unlock the potential of culture-reluctant bacteria,” Dr. Harikrishnan explains.

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