Public Release: 

John Innes Centre scientists identify 3-D structure of enzyme critical to creation of anticancer compounds in plants

Professor Sarah O'Connor and Dr. Dave Lawson have identified, for the first time, the 3-D structure of the enzyme iridoid synthase responsible for a very specific form of cyclization of monoterpenes which creates anticancer and antimalarial drugs

John Innes Centre

Scientists identify 3D structure of enzyme critical to the creation of anticancer and antimalarial compounds in plants

In a paper published today in Nature Chemical Biology, Professor Sarah O'Connor and Dr Dave Lawson have identified, for the first time, the 3D structure of the enzyme iridoid synthase responsible for a very specific form of cyclisation of monoterpenes which creates anticancer and antimalarial drugs.

The enzyme iridoid synthase plays a crucial role in the biosynthesis of a large class of plant natural products, the iridoids. Iridoids are the starting precursors for a large group of products such as the anticancer agent vinblastine, the antimalarial quinine and the active ingredient of catnip. Iridoid synthase generates the core of iridoid natural products by cyclizing a monoterpene precursor in a mode that is fundamentally different from other enzymes acting on monoterpenes. The first gene of an iridoid synthase has only recently been discovered. In their paper they report the three-D structure of this enzyme which provides more detailed information on the mechanism of iridoid synthase.


Notes to Editors

1. A copy of the paper and an image to accompany the press release can be found at:

2. If you have any questions about the paper or would like to interview Dr O'Connor please contact:
Geraldine Platten,
Communications Manager
The John Innes Centre
T: 01603 450238

3. About the John Innes Centre

Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature's diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.

To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.

This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.

The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2014-2015 the John Innes Centre received a total of £36.9 million from the BBSRC.

4. About the BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:

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