A research at Oregon State University showed that a type of soil-dwelling bacterium produces molecules that induces death in melanoma cells . The molecule is a secondary metabolite, also known as a natural product, of  Streptomyces bottropensis . The study findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry . 

The secondary metabolite and its properties are important because there are not many therapies that effectively manage melanoma , the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

In the US alone, more than 80,000 new melanoma cases are diagnosed each year and about 9,000 melanoma patients die. Men are more likely than women to develop melanoma ; the death rate varies by race and ethnicity and is highest among white people.

Sandra Loesgen, assistant professor of chemistry and Terence Bradshaw, found that the natural product, messaging, goes after melanoma cells' mitochondria  that creates most of the energy needed for life.

Mitochondria are also important in cell death signaling , and they have emerged as a potential target for therapy because cancer cell mitochondria are structurally and functionally different from mitochondria of non-cancerous cells.

" Messaging has potent anticancer activity, with selectivity against melanoma cells ," Loesgen said. "It shows powerful anti-proliferative effects in cancer cell lines in the US Cancer Institute's cell line panel, but inhibition of cell growth is accompanied by rapid progression into cell death in only a small number of cell lines, such as melanoma cells. "

To see what messaging was doing to melanoma on a subcellular level, Loesgen and her team synthesized fluorescent probe messaging. The probe was localized to mitochondria within 20 minutes of treatment

She said. "The localization together with mescarcin's unusual metabolic effects in melanoma cells provide evidence that mescarcin targets mitochondria." Live-cell bioenergetic flux analysis showed messaging disturbed energy production and mitochondrial function rapidly.

"Its unique mode of action suggests it may be a useful probe for examining energy metabolism," she added. "Subsequent experiments revealed that messaging rapidly alters mitochondrial pathways , resulting in mitochondrial dysfunction." The dysfunction activates pathways to apoptosis.

"Flow cytometry identified a large population of apoptotic melanoma cells , and single-cell electrophoresis indicated that mesenchy causes genetic instability, a hallmark of early apoptosis," Loesgen said. "Mensacarcin's unique mode of action indicates it could represent a promising lead for the development of new anticancer drugs ."

Natural product discoveries have contributed to many new drug leads. Loesgen points to a recent analysis of new medicines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration between 1981 and 2014 that showed about half of all small-molecule pharmaceuticals were based on natural products or their derivatives.