2023 01: Cephalotaxus

Tumour Drug From a Living Fossil

The Hainan Head Yew (Cephalotaxus hainanensis) is a living fossil that has survived only on the Chinese island Hainin. In the resin ducts of its barks, the valuable harringtonine accumulates, so far the most potent mean against leucemia. The few remaining specimens of this precious tree must be guarded to prevent that the costly bark is stolen, because the bark is traded with eight times the price of gold. In a cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture the first part of harringtonine formation could be elucidated. This is now published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of the USA (PNAS). A core finding of this work were the results from Dr. Huapeng Sun, who, during a two year research stay at the KIT, funded by the Helmholtz-OCPC programme, succeeded to identify the decisive enzyme, which forms the template for harringtonins. This paves the way for rebuilding the pathway biotechnologically in tobacco cells. Biotechnology might help, therefore, to rescue this tree from extinction. Broadcast in the Campus Radio