A group at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute (Jena, Germany) are studying the production of natural products such as a THC precursor called olivetolic acid using genetically engineered amoebae. The team successfully produced a functional inter-kingdom hybrid enzyme that creates olivetolic acid, which may lead to a novel production method for medicinal THC.
THC has been FDA approved for medicinal use in several instances, such as the treatment of nausea in patients having chemotherapy or to increase appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS. It is also being studied to treat pain caused by neurological disorders. “However, isolating THC in its pure form from the abundance of substances in a cannabis plant is very complex,” explained Falk Hillman, the head of the research group and senior author on the paper. While chemical synthesis is possible, it is expensive and results in a low yield of THC.
One of the key precursors to THC is olivetolic acid, which belongs to a group of molecules called polyketides. Polyketides are natural products with various therapeutic applications such as dietary supplements and antibiotics. The team is looking at using amoebae – single-celled organisms – to produce polyketides such as olivetolic acid.
Previously, researchers have used bacteria including Escherichia coli, or the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to synthesize polyketides; however, both methods require many genetic modifications to do so. The novel use of amoeba has the advantage that some already have the natural capability to produce polyketides and less genetic modification is needed to produce specific molecules such as THC.
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