Cyanobacteria in the laboratory. The new agent was isolated from cultures of the freshwater cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus.
Photo: Claus Brilisauer

15.02.2019

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Scientists at the University of Tübingen in Germany have discovered a sugar molecule that inhibits plants and microorganisms and is harmless to human cells. Could it become a substitute for the controversial herbicide glyphosate?

Researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany have discovered a natural substance that could compete with the controversial herbicide glyphosate. The newly discovered sugar molecule originating from cyanobacteria inhibits the growth of various microorganisms and plants, but is harmless to humans and animals.

The joint study was headed by Klaus Brilisauer, Stephanie Grond of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Karl Forchhammer of the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine. It appeared in the specialist journal Nature Communications early in February.

Agents used for pharmaceutical or agricultural purposes often originate from natural substances. The latter can consist of complex chemical structures, but may also be relatively simply structured. Often, the ingenuity of such agents lies in their simplicity. So-called antimetabolites interact with vital processes in the cell by copying metabolic products. The result is a disruption of the effected biological process, which leads to growth inhibition or even the death of the cell that has been hit.

The Tübingen research team consisting of chemists and microbiologists have now hit upon a very unusual antimetabolite with an incredibly simple chemical structure: a sugar molecule going by the scientific name of “7-desoxy-Sedoheptulose” (7dSh).

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