Medicinal plant properties
Thyme and oregano aren’t just for cooking. The plants have been used for centuries as herbal remedies to treat a number of illnesses.
Thymol, a compound that carries antibacterial properties and fights against muscle spasms, can be extracted from thyme. This chemical is often used in cough syrups, bronchitis remedies, fungicides, medical disinfectants, and more. Another incredible chemical called carvacrol carries similar properties and is found in oregano. These chemicals are actually the culprits of the plant’s recognizable fragrant smells.
Understanding the process
Teams of scientists, from Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg and Purdue University, combined to investigate exactly what is happening in the plants to produce these molecules. Due to the complexity of the processes, precise chemical pathways were previously unknown.
“It’s like a production line in a factory: every step needs to be coordinated and the desired product only emerges when the steps are carried out in the right order,” said Professor Jörg Degenhardt, author of the paper. Though instead of machines, plants recruit specific enzymes to coordinate the complex multi-stage conversion process.
What were the results?
Each step was investigated, yielding impressive results which solve the decade-old mystery of the synthesis process and associated enzymes. The team also discovered that by adding another enzyme into the mix, thymol and carvacrol could be converted into molecules with incredible anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects.
These findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are important for new disease and cancer remedies, especially for people who prefer a more natural approach to treatment. Also, understanding the exact mechanism of plant processes is beneficial for farmers and industrial factories trying to harvest their products.
Source study: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – The biosynthesis of thymol, carvacrol, and thymohydroquinone in Lamiaceae proceeds via cytochrome P450s and a short-chain dehydrogenase