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Poisonous mushrooms could hold clues for new drug

Dec 23, 2014

Scientists look all over the Earth for things called drug leads. Those are things that could eventually make new medicines.

Jonathan Walton, a professor of plant biology, led the research team that discovered the key to the lethal potency of poisonous mushrooms.
Credit Michigan State University

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered an enzyme in a species of poisonous mushroom.

Jonathan Walton is a professor of plant biology at MSU.

“So the poisonous mushrooms are notorious for making these small molecules called cyclic peptides and a lot of cyclic peptides are also drugs,” said Walton.

  He says the mushroom toxins have a number of things in common with some of our most beneficial drugs.

“For example, they’re resistant to heating and cooking, which makes them very stable, so they have a long shelf life," he says. "They’re resistant to the digestive tract so they make good orally taken drugs, and they’re rapidly absorbed by cells and they’re extremely specific in their toxicity.”

Walton says they collaborate with other researchers who screen compounds against bacteria and cancer cells.

He says their discovery of the mushroom enzyme is just the first step in a long path to developing a new drug.