Plant alkaloid productivity from convergent evolution of metabolizing enzymes

June 24, 2016

Unraveling the mysteries of medicinal plants

Joint research by Chiba University, Kyushu Institute of Technology and RIKEN CSRS has clarified the gene structure and enzyme function for lysine/ornithine–decarboxylase in Lycopodium clavatum (ground pine). This enzyme is key in alkaloid production in Lycopodium plants, which have multiple pharmacological actions.

In addition to catalyzing the decarboxylation of ornithine, lysine/ornithine–decarboxylase also serves as an efficient bifunctional enzyme for the production of cadaverine through decarboxylation. The high levels of anabasine (a tobacco alkaloid) and cadaverine were observed in the transgenic tobacco and Arabidopsis thaliana, demonstrating that the enzyme is useful for biotechnological production of alkaloids.

Researchers were also able to demonstrate that the bifunctional activity for ornithine and lysine resulted from convergent evolution from the ancestral enzymes in distantly related plant species.

This is the first molecular-level example of convergent evolution with an enzyme switching from amino acid metabolism to alkaloid production.


Original article
Plant Physiology doi: 10.1104/pp.16.00639
S. Bunsupa, K. Hanada, A. Maruyama, K. Aoyagi, K. Komatsu, H. Ueno, M. Yamashita, R. Sasaki, A. Oikawa, K. Saito, M. Yamazaki,
"Molecular Evolution and Functional Characterization of a Bifunctional Decarboxylase Involved in Lycopodium Alkaloid Biosynthesis".

Kazuki Saito
Group Director
Metabolomics Research Group