Endophytic fungi: novel sources of anticancer lead molecules.
Cancer is a major killer disease all over the world and more than six million new cases are reported every year. Nature is an attractive source of new therapeutic compounds, as a tremendous chemical diversity is found in millions of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Plant-derived compounds have played an important role in the development of several clinically useful anti-cancer agents. These include vinblastine, vincristine, camptothecin, podophyllotoxin, and taxol. Production of a plant-based natural drug is always not up to the desired level. It is produced at a specific developmental stage or under specific environmental condition, stress, or nutrient availability; the plants may be very slow growing taking several years to attain a suitable growth phase for product accumulation and extraction. Considering the limitations associated with the productivity and vulnerability of plant species as sources of novel metabolites, microorganisms serve as the ultimate, readily renewable, and inexhaustible source of novel structures bearing pharmaceutical potential. Endophytes, the microorganisms that reside in the tissues of living plants, are relatively unstudied and offer potential sources of novel natural products for exploitation in medicine, agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry. They develop special mechanisms to penetrate inside the host tissue, residing in mutualistic association and their biotransformation abilities opens a new platform for synthesis of novel secondary metabolites. They produce metabolites to compete with the epiphytes and also with the plant pathogens to maintain a critical balance between fungal virulence and plant defense. It is therefore necessary that the relationship between the plants and endophytes during the accumulation of these secondary metabolites is studied. Insights from such research would provide alternative methods of natural product drug discovery which could be reliable, economical, and environmentally safe.