According to scientists from Purdue University, the herbs are also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and filled with antioxidants.
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Everyday ingredients you keep in your kitchen cupboards are known to heal ailments, like turmeric for rashes and burns or clove for a toothache. Herbs you grow from your personal garden, like thyme and oregano, are able to help with more than just mild conditions, though. According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these herbs both feature an anti-cancer compound that can combat the development of tumors. Purely extracting the compounds from the herbs isn't enough, though. "By understanding how these compounds are formed, we open a path to engineering plants with higher levels of them or to synthesizing the compounds in microorganisms for medical use," said Natalia Dudarevea, a professor of biochemistry in Purdue's College of Agriculture, in a statement.

"It is an amazing time for plant science right now," Dudarevea added. "We have tools that are faster, cheaper, and provide much more insight. It is like looking inside the cell; it is almost unbelievable." The herbs, known as Thymolcarvacrol, and thymohydroquinone from the Lamiaceae family, are also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and filled with antioxidants. Thymohydroquinone, in particular, has anti-cancer properties, the Purdue University researchers noted.

bundle of fresh thyme on sackcloth
Credit: wmaster890 / Getty Images

Further, the team worked with Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and Michigan State University scientists that broke down the components of thymohydroquinone. "The findings alter previous views of the formation of this class of compounds, called phenolic or aromatic monoterpenes, for which only a few biosynthetic pathways have been discovered in other plants," said Dudareva in reference to the "biosynthetic pathway." Plus, Pan Liao, a postdoctoral researcher and co-first author of the study, noted that "these findings provide new targets for engineering high-value compounds in plants and other organisms. Not only do many plants contain medicinal properties, but the compounds within them are used as food additives and for perfumes, cosmetics, and other products."

After screening more than 80,000 genes from plant tissues and uncovering genes needed for thymohydroquinone production, the scientists now have an understanding of the molecular makeup. "More pathways are being discovered now because of the ability to use RNA sequencing to perform high-throughput gene expression analysis," Dudareva said. "The results of this research also will be useful for biochemistry and plant sciences research of other species of plants. We, as scientists, are always comparing pathways in different systems and plants. We are always in pursuit of new possibilities. The more we learn, the more we are able to recognize the similarities and differences that could be key to the next breakthrough."

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