Bitter compounds suppress cancer

Chinese researchers and Harro Bouwmeester discovered the building blocks of extremely bitter cucumbers. The bitter compounds can be used to suppress cancerous tumours.

The bitter compounds in cucumber, melon and pumpkin don't just cause less gnawing to the plants, they also suppress cancerous tumours. Harro Bouwmeester, together with Chinese researchers, mapped how the plant produces those bitter compounds. Their research was published in Science yesterday.

The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) researchers found nine genes in cucumbers, that play a part with the development of bitter compounds in the plant, both in the fruit and the leaf of the plant. They also found two transcription factors that regulate production of bitter compounds in the plant.

With this knowledge, the researchers are able to breed extremely bitter cucumbers, because they now also understand better how the extremely bitter wild cucumber was adapted during breeding to a non-bitter vegetable. Such a breeding programme for medicinal cucumber with many bitter compounds is interesting, seeing how the bitter compounds suppress cancerous tumours.

The research was carried out by Chinese researchers of the CAAS, with support from Bouwmeester, professor in Plant Physiology, and colleagues from Japan and the United States.


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