A young Ben de Lumen, (lower left), Department of Agricultural Chemistry UP, Los Baños, 1960.

Lunasin (from the Pilipino word lunas for cure) was discovered in the laboratory of Professor Ben O. de Lumen at the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, University of California at Berkeley. But the road to Lunasin started well before its serendipitous discovery.

Dr. de Lumen has always held a passion for the science of food and nutrition. After receiving a Bachelors of Science in Sugar Technology (Chemistry) from the University of the Philippines, Dr. de Lumen immigrated to the United States to further his education. There he received his Masters in Food Science from the University of Missouri and continued on to the University of California at Davis, where he completed a PhD in Agricultural Chemistry-Biochemistry.

The beginning of his professional career started at Campbell Soup in New Jersey, where he worked as a Senior Food Chemist for the Campbell Institute from 1972-1978. Although he took pride in his work at Campbell soup, Dr. de Lumen felt inhibited by the bureaucracy of corporate America and longed to make a difference in his field while wanting to bridge the gap between Philippine and American scientists. Research and education seemed to be his calling.

In 1978, Dr. de Lumen was hired as a Professor by the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. The focus of his research was on seeds as food sources with an emphasis on chemistry, biochemistry and nutritional qualities.

The discovery of Lunasin was a serendipitous one. Dr. de Lumen’s laboratory was working on a project to enhance the nutritional quality of soybean by increasing the methionine content and a gene termed Gm2S-1 was cloned. The Gm2S-1 gene coded for 4 proteins that included a methionine-rich protein (MRP) and Lunasin. The unique sequence of Lunasin attracted attention and in order to produce sufficient amounts for further study, the Lunasin gene was overexpressed in the microorganism E. coli and in mammalian cells. This resulted in cell death with the cells breaking up and Lunasin adhering to broken pieces of chromosomes. Thus, overexpression of the Lunasin gene killed the cells – a profound biological effect. The next question was: What is the effect of the Lunasin peptide?

The Lunasin Story begins…