Plant-derived natural products have been used to treat human and animal ailments for millenia, and they remain a major source of new drugs for the treatment of human diseases in the 21st century. CNAP uses state of the art technologies to aid rapid discovery and development of natural products that can be used to develop drugs for pain relief and the treatment of diseases ranging from malaria to cancer.
CNAP Artemisia Research Project
The CNAP Artemisia Research Project is developing improved varieties of the medicinal plant Artemisia annua. This plant is currently the sole source of the leading anti malaria drug artemisinin, but it only produces the drug in very low amounts.
Our aim is use the latest genetic techniques to accelerate and enhance traditional plant breeding and create new, non GM varieties of Artemisia with increased artemisinin yields.
Malaria claims almost a million lives every year but there is renewed global determination to halt it. The new plant varieties will improve the supply of artemisinin for use in artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), making these vital malaria medicines more accessible to patients in developing countries.
CNAP researchers published the first genetic map of Artemisia annua in the leading journal Science in 2010.
Poppy project with GSK Australia
Scientists based in CNAP at the University of York and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Australia have discovered a complex gene cluster responsible for the synthesis of the medicinal compound noscapine.
This discovery, published in Science within the Science Express website on Thursday 31 May 2012, reveals that the pathway for synthesis of noscapine is controlled by a complex gene cluster of ten genes encoding five different enzyme classes. This is the most complex gene cluster ever found in plants. The discovery has revealed the previously unknown biochemical pathway for noscapine synthesis. It will also greatly accelerate the breeding of high-noscapine poppy varieties.
The breakthrough came when the scientists discovered that poppy varieties that produce noscapine express a number of genes that are absent in varieties that are noscapine free. They then analysed the inheritance pattern of these genes in hundreds of offspring from crosses between noscapine and non-noscapine varieties. When they saw that all of these genes are inherited together, they realised they could be looking at an incredibly complex gene cluster. The identity and arrangement of genes in the cluster was determined by cloning and DNA sequencing.
When the Science paper was published Professor Ian Graham said: "We were amazed to find that this gene cluster encodes for almost the entire biosynthetic pathway for noscapine. With this one discovery we have been able to produce an outline of the pathway and define a number of the steps involved - something that normally takes years."
GlaxoSmithKline in Australia is one of the world's leading producers of opiate-based raw materials, supplying around 20% of the global needs. The research collaboration with the University of York is targeted at improving the productivity of all useful opiate products including morphine, codeine and thebaine as well as noscapine, which is a non-opiate. GSK are developing high yielding noscapine poppies and have commenced the commercial production of noscapine from poppies as a new route of production.
Researchers from the UK, USA and India led by CNAP begin a major project to develop new strains of rice to to meet challenging weather conditions.
CNAP, Department of Biology, University of York, Wentworth Way, York YO10 5DD, UK