An anti-cancer substance called taxol is found in yew trees. The process of harvesting this substance from the yew bark is expensive. A new study has revealed that taxol can also be derived from a kind of microbial 'bandage' that protects these trees from disease-causing fungi. This finding may lead to a less expensive synthetic process for making more of the cancer-fighting substance.
Study co-author Manish Raizada from University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said, "This is the first study to show how fungi living naturally in yew trees serve as a combination bandage-immune system for the plant. Drug companies might one day harness beneficial fungi to pump out more taxol cheaply and easily to meet demand. It could be be a 'holy grail' for cancer drug makers."
The researchers observed that naturally occurring fungi in the yew's vascular system act like an immune system to swarm a wound site and protect against invading pathogens. The taxol fungicide is contained in 'fatty bodies' that direct it only against pathogens and not the sensitive tissues of the tree.
Raizada said, "The fatty bodies come together to form a wall and seal the wound site."
The research team plans to study more about the genes and chemical pathways involved in making taxol in both trees and fungi.
The study appeared in Current Biology.