A plant enzyme against Parkinson's
Prof. Asaph Aharoni is an expert in plant metabolomics—the study of the chemical “fingerprint” left by the biosynthetic processes that occur in plant tissues. Using transcriptome analysis–a technique that involves examining the entire collection of RNA sequences in a cell–Prof. Aharoni identified a novel gene coding for an enzyme that catalyzes the formation of L-DOPA—the same compound used to treat Parkinson’s patients. Isolated in red beet root, this new gene was initially believed to serve as “backup” for a gene associated with a tyrosine-based biochemical pathway, where L-DOPA appears in an unstable, and quickly-disappearing form. However, when he “silenced” the well-known gene to examine the newly discovered gene in isolation, Prof. Aharoni discovered that the enzyme encoded by the new gene transforms tyrosine directly into stable L-DOPA molecules. This plant-based reaction generates L-DOPA with far greater efficiency than the synthetic methods used by pharmaceutical companies, and could have significant commercial impact.