Did you know?

The periwinkle on our logo has cancer-fighting properties. 

Periwinkle hero image

Our logo, the periwinkle, was not chosen because it makes an attractive logo. There is far more to this plant than its evergreen foliage and pretty small flower. 

The Madagascar Rosy periwinkle or Catharanthus roseus has significant medicinal properties that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, for ailments from diabetes to depression. 

In the 1950s, a Canadian research team identified the compounds in the Madagascan periwinkle that have cancer-fighting properties. Since then scientists have been extracting a chemical called vinblastine from its leaves. Vinblastine and vincristine are used in the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood leukaemia’s. 

However, the complex chemical mechanisms the periwinkle uses in the production of vinblastine had not been fully understood. As a result, it took around 500kg of dried Madagascar periwinkle leaves to produce 1g of vinblastine. 

So important is this plant’s properties, that plant scientists had been trying to unravel the complex chemistry of the Madagascar periwinkle and its cancer-fighting properties. In 2018, after 15 years of research, a team at the John Innnes Centre together with the Courdavault group based at Tours in France located the missing genes in the genome of the periwinkle that build the chemical vinblastine.

Using genome sequencing their research identified enzymes that build vinblastine precursor chemicals; these include catharanthine and tabersonine. These can be readily chemically coupled using synthetic biology techniques to give vinblastine, creating a shortcut to producing vinblastine. 

The periwinkle is a remarkable plant and one we are proud to have as our logo. 

Sources: 

Missing enzymes in the biosynthesis of the anticancer drug vinblastine in Madagascar periwinkle, published in Science on 3 May 2018

Unlocking the secrets of a cancer-fighting flower published in Medical News Today on 8 May 2018

Report from Kew Gardens

Image by Suanpa from Pixabay

Published: 3 August 2022