Scientists develop cancer-fighting plant

Feb. 5, 2004 at 10:38 PM
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Purdue University scientists said Thursday they have successfully engineered a plant that could be used to produce anti-cancer nutrition supplements.

The plant, which was given a gene that allows it to tolerate the selenium, also could be used to remove excess amounts of the mineral from agricultural fields.

Interest in selenium-tolerating plants arose because studies showed selenium can reduce the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 60 percent, the scientists said.

Selenium, a mineral occurring naturally in soils in some parts of the world, is an essential nutrient for animals, including humans -- but in tiny amounts. It is toxic to all animals and most plants at high levels.

The scientists inserted a gene into Arabidopsis thaliana, a model lab plant that normally does not tolerate selenium. The modified plant not only thrives in a selenium-rich environment, they said, but also can absorb high levels of a compound known as MSC in its tissues.

Lab studies have shown MSC to a safe and effective selenium-containing compound that reduces cancer risk in animals, making it an attractive prospect for eventual use in human nutritional supplements.

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