IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


10th January, 2024 Health


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Picture Courtesy: byron2000.en

Context: The researchers at the Indian Institutes of Technology Madras and Mandi successfully enhanced the production of the anti-cancer drug camptothecin (CPT) by metabolically engineering plant cells.


  • Camptothecin (CPT) is an anti-cancer drug derived from Nathapodytes nimmoniana, a native and endangered plant.
  • The extraction process is inefficient, requiring nearly 1,000 tonnes of plant material to produce 1 tonne of CPT.
  • The plant is endangered, and its population has seen a 20% decline in the past decade.

Research Efforts

  • In 2021, researchers from IIT Madras published a paper identifying a microbe as a sustainable and high-yielding alternative source for CPT.
  • The Plant Cell Technology Lab at IIT Madras developed a genome-scale metabolic model for N. nimmoniana plant cells using computational tools.
  • The study aims to enable effective and efficient commercial production of CPT and other important alkaloids while reducing the need to harvest endangered plants.
  • The Science and Engineering Board (SERB) and the Department of Science and Technology funded the research.
  • The research findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Plant Science.

Metabolic Engineering

  • The researchers focused on metabolically engineering plant cells to increase the production of CPT.
  • They developed a model-based rational metabolic engineering platform for plant cells.

Cultivation and Engineering Process

  • Plant cell cultures were grown in the lab, and cells were extracted and maintained in the lab.
  • The engineered plant cells were optimized to enhance the production of camptothecin.
  • The researchers are at technology readiness levels 3-4 and plan to optimize at the bioreactor level.

Commercial Viability

  • The researchers aim to make the process commercially viable within three to five years.
  • Integration of metabolic engineering with bioprocess engineering principles is emphasized for enhanced and sustainable drug production.
  • The platform developed for model-based rational metabolic engineering could potentially be used to enhance the production of other high-value phytochemicals.
  • The research offers a more sustainable method of producing camptothecin, reducing the reliance on endangered plants and contributing to conservation efforts.


  • This research has the potential to revolutionize the production of camptothecin, an essential anti-cancer drug, by providing a more sustainable and efficient alternative to the current extraction methods from endangered plants.


Q. Why has "camptothecin" been a topic of recent news coverage?

A) Due to its discovery in a new species of fungi.

B) As a result of its increased availability in common herbs.

C) Owing to its significance in the treatment of cancer.

D) For its newfound application in renewable energy sources.

Answer:  C


Camptothecin has been in the news due to its importance in cancer treatment, particularly as a potential source of anti-cancer drugs.