FEB 26, 2020 3:30 PM PST

Does the rainforest hold the cure to cancer?

WRITTEN BY: Carly Boyd

Mammalian cells come in many different shapes, sizes, and have very different characteristics based upon their function. The outer surface of cells are covered in glycans. Glycans are molecules made of linked carbohydrates that provide structure, energy storage, and regulatory function for a cell. Irregularities in glycan structure can cause the cell to become cancerous and behave in unusual ways, even evading the immune system. These glycans provide a “wealth of potentially novel targets for therapies” for cancer.

Lectins are a class of molecules that can detect and bind to abnormal glycans. Interestingly, these agents are found within nature and have proven to be extremely potent. In the environment, a lectin found in red-algae has inhibited the activity of HIV, Hepatitis C, coronavirus, and Ebola. Because of the wealth of genomic information available to us now, a novel lectin found within the root specimens found in the tropical rainforest “interacts with and potently inhibits human cancer cell lines.”

Lectins provide many functions for the trees in the tropical rainforest. These functions include defense against pathogens and supporting organisms that benefit their survival (as shown in the figure below)."Fig 1. Roles of microorganismal lectins. Lectins (highlighted yellow) found in root systems of plants and trees elicit a diverse array of functions. These include defense against pathogens, as well as support for mutualists and symbiotes. Lectins are also key weapons in the arms-race of competing microorganisms."

A group of researchers at Pennsylvania State University discovered a lectin known as ML6 (among many others) within the root specimens from the tropical rainforest that exhibited anti-cancer properties. ML6 has many unique binding domains that can bind to altered glycans on the surface of cancer cells. In a study, it showed binding and toxicity against cancer cell lines, but remarkably inactive towards non-cancerous or “healthy” cell lines. ML6 binding stimulated programmed cell death or apoptosis as well as cell stress pathways. With these results, ML6 represents a promising novel therapeutic target for treating cancer cells.

Source: Lawanprasert, Atip, et al. “Discovery of Antitumor Lectins from Rainforest Tree Root Transcriptomes.” Plos One, vol. 15, no. 2, 25 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229467.

About the Author
  • Being a master's student in Cell and Molecular Biology, I'm interested in a variety of topics in biology. Currently, I'm researching ways to identify putative enhancer elements for peripheral nervous system development in the genome of Ciona intestinalis (our closest invertebrate relative).
You May Also Like
APR 21, 2021
Microbiology
An Unknown Unknown - What's the State of Microbial Biodiversity?
APR 21, 2021
An Unknown Unknown - What's the State of Microbial Biodiversity?
Researchers have noted that we have a 'profound ignorance' about the state of the microbial populations of the world.
APR 23, 2021
Microbiology
A Causal Connection Between C-Section Births & Food Allergies
APR 23, 2021
A Causal Connection Between C-Section Births & Food Allergies
The microbes that live in the human gut have a powerful influence on our health, and that microbial community is with us ...
APR 25, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
How Did the Chernobyl Disaster Affect Human Health?
APR 25, 2021
How Did the Chernobyl Disaster Affect Human Health?
It's been about 35 years since the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Now researchers have investigated whet ...
MAY 12, 2021
Cardiology
Reversing the Heart Damage Seen in Marfan Syndrome
MAY 12, 2021
Reversing the Heart Damage Seen in Marfan Syndrome
Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder that disrupts the connective tissues that anchor and link the body's organs, affec ...
MAY 28, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Some Animals Can Breathe Through Their Whats?
MAY 28, 2021
Some Animals Can Breathe Through Their Whats?
There are some aquatic animals like sea cucumbers and some types of catfish that can survive in environments with limite ...
JUN 01, 2021
Microbiology
A Closer Look at a Potential Bioweapon
JUN 01, 2021
A Closer Look at a Potential Bioweapon
Francisella tularensis is a naturally occurring bacterium found throughout the Northern Hemisphere that is extremely vir ...
Loading Comments...