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UK, WSU Launch Medicinal Plant Genetics Resources

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Two research consortia funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one led by the University of Kentucky and another by Washington State University, have created two resources of data about medicinal plants that researchers will use to discover genes, pathways, and other traits involved in the biosynthesis of compounds used in pharmaceuticals. Both projects were funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grand Opportunities grants.

The UK-led effort, called the Medicinal Plant Consortium (MPC) developed a searchable and downloadable resource for studying how plant genes contribute to the production of various compounds. There was a need for such a resource because the pathways that lead to the creation of important plant compounds, such as taxol or morphine, are poorly understood and research into them has been slow, according to members of the consortia.

UK and its partners used next-generation sequencing to determine the near-complete set of mRNAs encoded by medicinal plant species and conducted transcriptome profiling using the RNA-Seq method from Illumina. All of the gene expression and metabolite profiling data has been made available through the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the MPC custom website.

"The current understanding of the molecules and genes involved in the formation of plant-derived medicinal compounds is very incomplete. However, the ability to conduct genome-wide studies of model plant species has resulted in an explosive increase in our knowledge of and capacity to understand the biological processes," Sarah O’Connor, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now at the John Innes Centre and an MPC co-project coordinator, said in a UK statement.

The MPC partners include Michigan State University; Iowa State University; the University of Mississippi; Purdue University; Texas A&M University; MIT; and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.

The Washington State University project, the Medicinal Plants/Human Health Consortium, created the Transcriptome Characterization, Sequencing, and Assembly of Medical Plants Relevant to Human Health resource.

The WSU-led consortium included partners at the Danforth Plant Science Center, the National Center for Genomics Resources, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. In this project, the scientists are analyzing 45 different medicinal plant species, including plants that provide treatments for cancer, infection, malaria, hypertension, inflammation, and others.

"This work offers a valuable data resource for understanding the genes, enzymes, and complex processes responsible for the biosynthesis of important plant-derived drugs," Warren Jones, chief of the Biochemistry and Biorelated Chemistry Branch at NIGMS, said in a WSU statement. "The collaborative effort should greatly contribute to our ability to understand and exploit the rich biochemistry found in plants."

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