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The Perfect Pill?

Sunflower seeds are an attractive system for making protein drugs.

Sunflower seeds are an attractive system for making protein drugs.

By Joshua Mylne

A protein found in sunflower seeds could be the key to developing plants as pharmaceutical factories.

Joshua Mylne is an Australian Research Council QEII Fellow based at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A tiny protein ring derived from sunflower seeds has inspired drug designers for more than a decade, but the unusual way that sunflowers make it has only recently been revealed in a discovery that could transform plants into drug production factories and turn seeds into pills.

Our recent research has shown that this protein ring is surprisingly buried within much a larger protein that makes a completely different protein called albumin. Even more unusual is that the ring and the albumin emerge from the larger protein simultaneously, using the machinery that normally only matures the albumin. This “hijacking” of the sunflower’s processing machinery to make a protein ring can be transferred to other plants and offers a means of synthesising drug-like rings on a large scale.

Interest in the Sunflower Ring by Drug Designers
This whole story began in the late 1990s when Russian scientist Alexander Konarev studied proteins that blocked protein-digesting enzymes. He was interested in these proteinases because plants often use proteinase blockers to protect themselves from insects.

Konarev discovered one proteinase blocker that was of extraordinary potency. It was also one of the smallest he’d ever found. This particular proteinase blocker came from extracts made from sunflower seeds, and he purified it during a collaborative visit to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.