How A Molecule of Ornamental Tobacco Plant Can Kill Cancer Cells?

Ornamental Tobacco cover

Smoking tobacco, especially in the form of cigarettes in today’s world has become an ever-increasing problem that is causing many diseases. However, smoking tobacco is nothing new or even something that initiated recently. Indigenous people have been smoking this substance for thousands of years and it has been an important part of multiple cultures throughout the world for centuries. Unfortunately, smoking today is not the same as it was during those times, because those people simply pluck the leaves, dried them, and smoked them but in modern times, cigarettes and vapes are laced with chemicals that are extremely dangerous and cause cancer. Strangely, scientists have found a molecule in tobacco that can kill cancer cells, it sure sounds like a paradoxical situation.

What exactly happens when we smoke cigarettes?

As the smoke is inhaled, with each and every inhalation of this dangerous smoke we are making our internals vulnerable to over 5,000 harmful chemicals that are either present in the cigarettes or are released upon combustion. Cancer is what is obviously taught that will happen if one smokes but despite that these are some of the negative effects one encounters as they smoke.

  • The Mouth: To begin with, the entry point, the mouth first encounters the smoke and our lips go dry due to the smoke and teeth begin to lose enamel over time leading to weak gums, decay, and falling of the teeth. You must have noticed, people who smoke tend to have yellowish and sometimes even blackish teeth, which is due to the buildup of tar.
Smoker teeth

Teeth of a smoker turning yellow.

  • The Nose: If you happen to something about biology, you must know that we breathe from our nose firstly and then from our mouths. As the smoke is inhaled, some of it goes into the nostrils as well and over time it starts to damage the nerve ending resulting in a lack of smell.
  • The Throat: As the smoke enters from the mouth it is passed down via the throat. It irritates the lining of the throat and it becomes inflamed, in addition to that it results in polyps, an abnormal growth in tissue cells that alters the pitch and tone of the voice. This is the reason why smokers have the same rusty tone throughout their speech.
  • The Lungs: Inside the lungs and airways, the chances of infection and even chronic diseases increase tremendously. Our lungs are lined with something known as the cilia, these are tiny hair-like hooks that caught any harmful substances and keeps the airway clear, however, smoke damages these resulting in polluted air being inhaled even when not smoking. If that’s not bad, over time smoking results in the release of carbon monoxide from the air sacks responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The newly released carbon monoxide is then attached to hemoglobin traveling throughout the body instead of oxygen, this leads to shortness of breath and oxygen deprivation.
Smoker vs non smoker

Lungs of a non-smoker and a smoker compared.

  • The Brain: Within seconds of inhalation, the bloodstream carries a stimulant that is released from cigarettes and reaches the brain. This chemical acts as a trigger for the brain to release dopamine and endorphins, the pleasure chemicals that make smoking seriously addictive.

In addition to these ill effects, nicotine also narrows the blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack and even irritate the digestive system. If that was not enough, it mutates the DNA resulting in the formation of cancer cells.

 A molecule in Tobacco killing cancer

If tobacco smoking has such a negative effect on the body and causes cancer, how come a molecule in it is responsible for killing cancer?

NaD1 structure

3D structure of NaD1

Scientists in an Australian university conducted an experiment with a certain protein, known as NaD1 which is found in ornamental tobacco plants, it was seen to be targeting cancer cells. They approached the study with various techniques and found the same results, as for the protein, it is a type of defensin, a molecule that is present in most plants as a mechanism to protect themselves from fungal infections. What fascinated the scientists was that NaD1 protein not only attacked the cancer cells but was also capable of identifying the difference between healthy and unhealthy cells, as healthy cells were left unharmed. In addition to testing the functioning of this protein against cancer and various other diseases, it was the disruption of the cell membrane that was measured in various ways. Upon using live confocal microscopy it was observed that cancer cells started blebbing when NaD1 was introduced near it. It is a term used to describe the ballooning up of the edges of cells which usually happens before the death of the cell. Finally, it was observed that the cancer cells upon blebbing to a certain size, burst and died. Astonishing as it was, scientists were also able to determine which specific section of the cell the protein attacked. It was observed that Nad1 worked upon after binding to a specific lipid known as PIP2 when the protein is bounded to NaD1 it alters the structure of the cell and ultimately killing it.

This discovery can lead to a medicine that can finally tackle and treat some of the cancer cells or scientists could even alter the protein to attack other kinds of cells as well. Though it is derived from ornamental tobacco, we must understand that it is not the smoking that is attacking the cancer cells. These were conducted in the lab with controlled conditions and smoking is still a bad idea.



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