Another reason to garden? Scientists discover a microbe in dirt that fights melanoma

Tending to a garden is known to lower stress levels in city dwellers, and is also known to provide mental health wellness for people who find it difficult to cope with life. An Oregon State University study found that a soil-dwelling bacterium helps kill cancerous melanoma cells – one more reason to take up that gardening class you’ve been putting off for many months now.

Mensacarcin triggers early apoptosis

The soil-dwelling bacterium called Streptomyces bottopensis produces molecules which has properties that manage melanoma. These molecules, known as mensacarcin, targets a melanoma cell’s mitochondria, which create energy for the cell itself. The mitochondrion of cancer cells is different from normal cells, which is why experts have a difficult time creating solutions for diseases such as melanoma. In this case, mensacarcin has anti-cancer properties, especially in melanoma, and opens up doors towards a cancer-free future. (Related: Gardening activities reduce lung cancer risk by 50%.)

In order to determine the exact functions of mensacarcin, the researchers synthesized a fluorescent probe. The probe was localized to the mitochondria of the melanomatic cell, and showed that mensacarcin disturbed the energy production and mitochondrial function rapidly. The following experiments showed that mensacarcin alters the mitochondrial pathways, resulting in their dysfunction. Dysfunction, in turn, leads to a programmed cell death. To sum it up, mensacarcin causes genetic instability from within the melanomatic cell, and leads to early apoptosis (cell death).

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most common and most dangerous form of skin cancer. Experts describe it as a mole-like mark on the skin – but abnormally shaped. It happens when DNA gets damaged from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, usually from prolonged stays under the sun and frequent sessions at the tanning salon. UV radiation causes mutations and genetic defects in skin cells, and causes it to multiply abnormally fast and form malignant tumors.

To determine if a person has melanoma without the use of medical instruments or laboratory testing, the ABCDEs of melanoma can be used. If detected early, melanoma can almost always be treated and cured.

  • Asymmetry – If you draw a horizontal line through a normal mole, it would have a symmetrical top and bottom. However, if you draw a line through an abnormal mole (melanoma), you get two halves that are unequal in size.
  • Border – Normal moles are usually round, while melanoma marks are not. They usually appear like formless splats.
  • Color – While normal moles tend to be brown, pink or reddish, melanoma marks have a dark brown or black color.
  • Diameter – Moles usually have a small diameter, only a few millimeters wide (like a pencil tip). Melanomous moles, however, have a larger diameter, spanning up to a centimeter or more (larger than a pencil eraser).
  • Evolving – Through the years, normal moles tend to stay the same shape and size. Melanoma causes these marks to grow in size or change in shape, as well as darken in color.

This skin disease affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S., and kills about 9,000 people annually. Men are more likely to develop melanoma as compared to women, and the rates of death are higher among those with light-colored skin.

The study entitled The natural product mensacarcin induces mitochondrial toxicity and apoptosis in melanoma cells was authored by postdoctoral scholar Birte Plitzko, graduate student Elizabeth N. Kaweesa, College of Science scholar Terence Bradshaw, and lead author and assistant professor of chemistry Sandra Loesgen from Oregon State University. The study was published in the October 2017 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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