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Scientists find common roots for thousands of plant compounds

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Just one cellular pathway produces the raw ingredients plants use to make thousands of compounds, from molecules with anticancer properties to the active ingredient in catnip, according to a team of researchers at Purdue University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

This finding challenges long-held assumptions about how plants produce these commercially important products. The research also could have important implications for researchers trying to harness plant pathways to produce essential oils, often used as flavor additives in food and medicine or as fragrance in body-care products, said Natalia Dudareva, professor of horticulture and lead researcher of the study.

"Our research has applications in the future metabolic engineering of essential oil production," Dudareva said. "The yield of these compounds depends on the amount of materials available in the cell, and knowing where these compounds come from and which pathway produces them is the place to start."

Dudareva and her colleagues report in the current issue (Tuesday, Jan. 18) of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that the molecular precursors to a group of compounds called terpenoids - the largest and most diverse family of natural products - come from a single plant pathway, located inside the same part of a cell where photosynthesis occurs.

Terpenoids are made from compounds called precursor molecules, which are a kind of molecular raw material. Just as a potter can transform five identical spheres of clay into five unique pieces of art, identical precursor molecules can transform into unique compounds by following different molecular pathways.

Scientists previously discovered that two independent pathways, located in different compartments within a plant cell, use these precursor molecules to produce terpenoids. Most scientists assumed that both pathways were capable of producing these precursor molecules as wel
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
19-Jan-2005


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