Researchers Biosynthesize a Cannabinoid Precursor from Amoeba

Researchers Biosynthesize a Cannabinoid Precursor from Amoeba

A study published in Nature Biotechnology by a team of researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology at the Hans Knoll Institute in Jena, Germany discusses a team’s efforts to develop a natural cannabinoid precursor. The research team developed a process that produces natural elements in amoebae called polyketides. One of the natural products is olivetolic acid which is a cannabinoid precursor.

Olivetolic acid is needed to synthesize THC. Though THC is a natural compound in the cannabis plant, it is difficult to extract it in its pure form in large quantities. In addition, the chemical synthesis of THC is expensive. These facts drove the researchers to pursue the study of amoeba as a potential source of polyketides. To date, this type of research has used bacteria (Escherichia coli) and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) as polyketides sources. Another reason the researchers chose amoeba for the research project is because the bacteria and yeast required many genetic modifications to enable synthesis. This is because they do not naturally produce the desired products. It was hoped the researchers could simplify the process by changing source material.

The research project involved using the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. The plant enzyme known to produce olivetolic acid, the THC producer, was combined with the amoebic enzyme to synthesize the polyketides. The research is focused on synthesizing THC for medical use.

“Through our research, we have shown that the amoeba Dictyostelium can be used as a biotechnological production platform for polyketide-based natural products. Our next goal is to insert the two enzymes that are still missing in order to be able to produce the final product THC in the amoebae,” explained the lead researcher Christin Reimer.

Simplifying the engineering of olivetolic acid, the THC precursor, has enormous potential to increase the availability of THC for medical purposes while lowering the cost. It would seem there is also the potential to apply the synthesizing process in other industries besides pharmaceuticals. CBD and THC both come from the cannabis plant and have different properties, but cannabinoids are prenylated polyketides. Continued research will surely lead to some interesting and useful results that will also enhance the current knowledge base concerning all cannabinoids but especially the two most popular ones – THC and CBD.

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