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Plants Engineered to Produce New Drugs

(Science Daily) Humans have long taken advantage of the huge variety of medicinal compounds produced by plants. Now MIT chemists have found a new way to expand plants' pharmaceutical repertoire by genetically engineering them to produce unnatural variants of their usual products.
The researchers … have added bacterial genes to the periwinkle plant, enabling it to attach halogens such as chlorine or bromine to a class of compounds called alkaloids that the plant normally produces. Many alkaloids have pharmaceutical properties, and halogens, which are often added to antibiotics and other drugs, can make medicines more effective or last longer in the body.
The team's primary target, an alkaloid called vinblastine, is commonly used to treat cancers such as Hodgkin's lymphoma. O'Connor sees vinblastine and other drugs made by plants as scaffolds that she can modify in a variety of ways to enhance their effectiveness.
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