How the Chemistry Behind Catnip Could Help Research With Cancer

Domestic cat enjoying catnip at home

Cats are super fun to own, especially if you’re someone who enjoys being snubbed or attacked in your own home.

Cat owners love giving their little kitties everything that makes them happy, and for many, that includes catnip.

Image Credit: iStock

Your furry friend loves it, they wallow in it, and then they entertain you by going completely bonkers and tearing around the house.

Win/win, right? I mean, what could be better than that?

Image Credit: iStock

But just exactly why does your cat love the green stuff so much? Read on and find out, my friends!

The active chemical in catnip – a terpene called nepetalactone – is what leads to the crazy behavior in over 50% of cats.

Image Credit: Bartleby

The other 25%-50% don’t get what the big deal is (and is probably inherited, since most Aussie cats couldn’t care less).

A paper published in Nature Chemical Biology, written by UK researchers from the John Innes Centre, recently looked at the process by which nepetalactone is formed, and found that it’s distinct from the way every other known plant forms terpenes.

Image Credit: iStock

Other plants use a single enzyme to form terpenes, but catip uses a two-step process.

One enzyme activates a precursor compound, and a second enzyme grabs it to produce the nepetalactone.

Image Credit: iStock

Researchers believe the process is similar to one where anti-cancer drugs are blended, and Dr. Benjamin Lichman, one of the co-authors of the paper, says they’re thrilled with their findings so far.

“We have made significant progress in understanding how catnip makes nepetalactones, the chemical that sends cats crazy.

Catnip is performing unusual and unique chemical processes, and we plan to use these to help us create useful compounds that can be used in treatment of diseases such as cancer.

We are also working to understand the evolution of catnip to understand how it came to produce the cat-active chemicals.”

So, there you go – not only does catnip cause your cat to amuse you, but it might cure cancer, too.

I say go and grab some for you and kitty today!