Mining Meadows: Biosynthesis and Bioactivity of Phytochemicals from UK Plants


Plants synthesize a multitude of specialized metabolites, many of which are used to provide protection against pests and pathogens, as attractants for beneficial insects, or to model their microbiomes. In addition, many plant natural products are utilised as medicines, fragrances and industrial ingredients.

The aster family (Asteraceae) is one of the largest plant families with over 25,000 species many of which have been cultivated for medicinal purposes. In some species, these therapeutic properties have been attributed to triterpenes. However, the genetic basis for the vast majority of these molecules is unknown.

This project will investigate the bioactivity and biosynthesis of triterpenes found in the floral tissues of Asteraceae, aiming to link bioactivity to specific molecules. Using a range of techniques including bioassays, bioinformatics, molecular biology and biochemistry, this project will explore the bioactive properties of triterpenes from UK Asteraceae, as well as their biosynthesis and the potential for production via biomanufacturing.

Based in the Patron Lab at the Earlham Institute, in collaboration with the O’Connell lab in UEA Pharmacy and the Osbourn Lab at the John Innes Centre, this project will be linked to the UK-wide ‘Darwin Tree of Life’ initiative, aiming to decode the genomes of all known UK eukaryotes. Training will be provided in all areas.

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Thimmappa et al (2014) Triterpene biosynthesis in plants. Annu Rev Plant Biol 65;225-257

Stephenson MJ, Reed J, Patron NJ, Lomonossoff G, Osbourn A (2019) Engineering tobacco for plant natural product production. Comprehensive Natural Products III (Third Edition) Chemistry and Biology 6:244-262