Texas chemist wins national award for vitamin, other natural products research

A. Ian Scott of College Station, Texas, will be honored March 25 by the world's largest scientific society for uncovering and recreating the processes nature uses to build vitamins, enzymes and other compounds potentially useful in medicine. He will receive the 2003 Nakanishi Prize from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

With more than 50 years of research at hand, Scott, a bioorganic chemist and professor at Texas A&M University, is one of the pioneers in the study of natural products, those compounds made by plants, bacteria and other organisms that have medical properties in humans.

"What's really exciting now is the prospect of reconstructing an entire pathway [to make a natural product] in a test tube," he said. The Human Genome Project and its versions for other organisms have furthered that prospect by deciphering entire genetic blueprints of enzymes, nature's construction workers.

Scott and his research team have already made vitamin B12, a natural product he has worked with for about 30 years. "We recreated the pathway one step at a time. Vitamin B12 takes 13 enzymes in 20 steps," he said. "Luckily, they don't get in each others' way. We just incubated them overnight with a single amino acid," or protein building block.

He is now working on recreating the pathway for taxol, the anti-cancer drug originally derived from yew trees and currently made via a labor-intensive process starting with a bush related to yew. "We've found the first four or five genes, and we've gotten as far as a compound with taxol's shape and appropriate rings," he said. "I think we've got about two [genes] more to go."

Scott, originally from Scotland, said his interest in science came early. "My grandfather was a pharmacist, and when I was a boy I would spend vacations at his home," he remembered. "He used to take me to the pharmacy on Sundays after it closed and showed me the chemicals and what they did.


Contact: Allison Byrum
American Chemical Society

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