Technology Unlocks Mold Genomes to Identify New Drug Candidates

Fungi are rich sources of natural molecules for drug discovery, but numerous challenges have pushed pharmaceutical companies away from tapping into this bounty. Now, scientists have developed technology that uses genomics and data analytics to efficiently screen for molecules produced by molds to find new drug leads — maybe even the next penicillin. The research, from scientists at Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the biotech company Intact Genomics, was published online on June 12, 2017 in Nature Chemical Biology. The article is titled “A Scalable Platform to Identify Fungal Secondary Metabolites and Their Gene Clusters.” “Drug discovery needs to get back to nature, and molds are a gold mine for new drugs,” said Neil Kelleher (photo), PhD, Director of the Proteomics Center of Excellence and a professor in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. “We have established a new platform that can be scaled for industry to provide a veritable fountain of new medicines. Instead of rediscovering penicillin, our method systematically pulls out valuable new chemicals and the genes that make them. They can then be studied in depth.” Scientists believe there are thousands or even millions of fungal molecules waiting to be discovered, with enormous potential health, social, and economic benefits. The new technology systematically identifies powerful bioactive molecules from the microbial world — honed through millennia of evolution — for new drug leads.
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