Discovery of biosynthetic gene for a medicinal component of ashwagandha

August 7, 2018

Potential applications for development of natural medicines and synthetic biology applications

An international collaborative research group consisting of RIKEN CSRS, the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the Carlsberg Research Laboratory have discovered a key gene involved in the biosynthesis of withanolides, one of the main active compounds in the important Ayurvedic medicinal plant ashwagandha.

The research group analyzed in details the transcriptome data for solanaceous plants, which contain withanolides, and discovered a new gene, 24ISO, that demonstrated homology with the genes necessary for biosynthesis of steroids that widely exist in plants.

In solanaceous plants, the presence of the 24ISO coincides well with the accumulation of withanolides. Researchers expressed this gene in yeasts and tobacco, and found that 24ISO could produce an important intermediate in withanolide synthesis. They also found that suppressing 24ISO in ashwagandha markedly reduced accumulation of withanolides, demonstrating that 24ISO is a key gene in withanolide synthesis.

These findings are expected to contribute to the development of natural medicines through synthetic biology methods and extend healthy life expectancy through practical application of traditional medicine.

Original article
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA doi:10.1073/pnas.1807482115
E. Knoch, S. Sugawara, T. Mori, C. Poulsen, A. Fukushima, J. Harholt, Y. Fujimoto, N. Umemoto, K. Saito,
"Third DWF1 paralog in Solanaceae, sterol Δ24-isomerase, branches withanolide biosynthesis from the general phytosterol pathway".
Eva Knoch; Visiting Researcher
Kazuki Saito; Group Director
Metabolomics Research Group