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Crop Biotech Update

Plants May Tell Us Why People Respond Differently to Drugs

September 28, 2007

A particular dosage of a certain drug may elicit different response in different people; while certain drugs can successfully cure ailments in some patients, the same medication may cause adverse reaction or no response at all in others. According to Sean Cutler, a professor from the University of California Riverside, such variation in drug response can be analyzed by studying simpler organisms, like plants. In a study published by Nature Chemical Biology, Cutler and his research team identified a key protein in Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed of the mustard family, linked to drug resistance. The protein UGT (UDP-glycosyltransferase) is a member of the protein family that also affects drug sensitivity in humans.

In their study, Cutler and colleagues tested thousands of drug-like molecules that can inhibit plant growth. They discovered a new compound, called hypostatin, which acts like a drug in plant growth inhibition. They found out that UGT activates hypostatin by attaching a sugar molecule to it, very similar to the mechanism present in humans where altered drug sensitivity can occur because of defective or atypical sugar-tagging proteins. Cutler said that these similarities suggest that plants can be useful for studying problems of human interest like drug responses and protein sorting.

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