Crowdsourcing drug discovery: Antitumour compound identified

Skip to Navigation

Ezine

  • Published: Jan 1, 2014
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Crowdsourcing drug discovery: Antitumour compound identified

Standing out in a crowd

Credit: Cichewicz There are several subsequent planned steps planned to for our research program.  First, we want to continue expanding the citizen science program.  It has been wonderful interacting with people and communicating with them about natural products drug discovery.  I would ultimately like to see the a network of citizen scientists representing every possible zip code in the USA.

American researchers have used "crowdsourcing" - the cooperation of a large number of interested non-scientists via the internet - to help them identify a new fungus. The species contains unusual metabolites, isolated and characterized, with the help of vibrational circular dichroism (VCD). One compound reveals itself to have potential antitumour activity.

So far, a mere 7 percent of the more than 1.5 million species of fungi thought to exist have been identified and an even smaller fraction of these have been the subject of research seeking bioactive natural products. There have, of course, been numerous historical discoveries from fungi, such as the antibiotic penicillin, the immunosuppressant cyclosporin A, several cholesterol-controlling statins and many others. Robert Cichewicz of the University of Oklahoma, USA, and his colleagues hoped to remedy this situation by working with a collection of several thousand fungal isolates from three regions: Arctic Alaska, tropical Hawaii, and subtropical to semiarid Oklahoma. Collaborator Susan Mooberry of the University of Texas at San Antonio carried out biological assays on many fungal isolates looking for antitumor activity among the metabolites in Cichewicz's collection. A number of interesting substances were identified.

Citizen science

However, the researchers realized quickly enough that the efforts of a single research team were inadequate if samples representing the immense diversity of the thousands of fungi they hoped to test were to be obtained and tested. They thus turned to the help of citizen scientists in a "crowdsourcing" initiative. In this approach, lay people with an interest in science, and even fellow scientists in other fields, were recruited to collect and submit soil from their gardens.

As the samples began to arrive, the team quickly found among them a previously unknown fungal strain - a Tolypocladium species - growing in a soil sample from Alaska. Colleague Andrew Miller of the University of Illinois did the identification of this new fungus, which was found to be highly responsive to making new compounds based on changes in its laboratory growth conditions. Moreover, extraction of the active chemicals from the isolate revealed a unique metabolite which was shown to have significant antitumour activity in laboratory tests. The team suggests that this novel substance may represent a valuable new approach to cancer treatment because it precludes certain biochemical mechanisms that lead to the emergence of drug resistance in cancer with conventional drugs.

Fungal spectroscopy

The team was able to boost growth through the fungus' peculiar biosynthetic pathway using specific additives, a special growing medium and the addition of Pseudomonas to trigger fungal production of this metabolite, which the team has dubbed maximiscin. Spectroscopic analysis, including VCD, shows maximiscin to have a rather unusual structure, which adds a new twist to the molecular diversity ascribed to natural products.

The researchers point out the essential roles that citizen scientists can play. "Many of the groundbreaking discoveries, theories, and applied research during the last two centuries were made by scientists operating from their own homes," Cichewicz says. "Although much has changed, the idea that citizen scientists can still participate in research is a powerful means for reinvigorating the public's interest in science and making important discoveries," he adds.

"There are several subsequent planned steps planned to for our research program.  First, we want to continue expanding the citizen science program," Cichewicz told SpectroscopyNOW. "It has been wonderful interacting with people and communicating with them about natural products drug discovery.  I would ultimately like to see the a network of citizen scientists representing every possible zip code in the USA."

Related Links

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl, 2013, in press: "Crowdsourcing Natural Products Discovery to Access Uncharted Dimensions of Fungal Metabolite Diversity"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

Social Links

Share This Links

Bookmark and Share

Microsites

Suppliers Selection
Societies Selection

Banner Ad

Click here to see
all job opportunities

Most Viewed

Copyright Information

Interested in separation science? Visit our sister site separationsNOW.com

Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved