Tobacco use represents a major worldwide health problem. Around one fifth of the world's population regularly smokes tobacco and nearly half of these people will die from tobacco-related illnesses1. And yet, nicotine addiction is extremely difficult to overcome.
A study just published by Xue et al., from The Scripps Research Institute, describes a new biochemical tool that could eliminate the addictive power of nicotine, and make quitting much easier2.
This team of biologists and chemists made use of bacteria known as Pseudomonas putida, isolated from tobacco fields3. These bacteria consume nicotine as a food source, and an enzyme known as NicA2 is a primary component of their nicotine metabolism. Using a gene from P. putida, Xue et al. were able to purify recombinant NicA2 enzyme capable of degrading nicotine. They anticipate that the NicA2 enzyme may soon be used as a treatment for nicotine addiction. The hope is that NicA2, if administered to smokers, could destroy nicotine in the blood before it ever has a chance to reach the brain and deliver its "rewards." The next logical steps will be to test NicA2 in vivo. This could be done either by using the recombinant enzyme, or by expressing the NicA2 gene in animals subject to nicotine treatment.
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1. World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory (GHO): http://www.who.int/gho/tobacco/
2. Xue, S., Schlosburg, J. E., & Janda, K. D. (2015). A new strategy for smoking cessation: Characterization of a bacterial enzyme for the degradation of nicotine. Journal of the American Chemical Society.
3. Wang, S. N., Liu, Z., Tang, H. Z., Meng, J., & Xu, P. (2007). Characterization of environmentally friendly nicotine degradation by Pseudomonas putida biotype A strain S16. Microbiology, 153(5), 1556-1565.