A team of researchers from Michigan State University has genetically sequenced two species of poisonous mushrooms. They discovered that they can hypothetically produce billions of compounds through one molecular assembly line. This may open the door to effectively destroying some lethal diseases. The research team will target the “Death Cap,” which grows on the West Coast and Europe, and the “Destroying Angel,” which derives from Michigan.
Jonathan Walton, professor at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory and co-lead author, stated, “We actually did a partial DNA sequence of the two mushrooms 10 years ago. As sequencing has gotten faster and cheaper, we were able to complete the project recently.” As Walton predicted, the information revealed the genes responsible for producing several of the known harmful poisons, which come in the form of small, ring-shaped molecules called cyclic peptides.
Walton said, “Because cyclic peptides lack any free ends, it is hard for our bodies to latch on to them in order to digest them or to repel them. So the peptides enter our blood streams and target our cells very easily, very precisely.” Bewildered, Walton and colleagues discovered mushrooms have the potential to synthesize many more cyclic peptides than thought before, through one molecular production platform. The researchers have already discovered three previously unknown cyclic peptides based on patterns in the newly discovered DNA sequence.
Walton can already envision using cyclic peptides’ laser-like ability to penetrate human cells for medicinal uses, noting that only a few mushroom peptides are poisonous to people. Walton stated, “Imagine you have 10 different Lego bricks. There are so many ways you can put them together. Cyclic peptides are assembled just like Legos, each one made of 8-10 out of a total of 20 possible amino acids. If you scramble these components, you can synthesize a huge number of these molecules in the lab through that one molecular platform.”
Until now, the only research done with these types of mushroom extracts have looked for conditions that kill mammals. “Yet, many cyclic peptides are already known to be important drugs against tuberculosis, drug-resistant Staphylococcus, and cancer. By harnessing the Amanita system, we can imagine a less crude and potentially more effective way to synthesize a large pool of new compounds, which we can test for potential pharmaceutical uses.”