Mining meadows: exploring the metabolic diversity of UK plants


Plants synthesize a multitude of specialised metabolites, many of which they use 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 aims to identify the biosynthetic pathways of plant metabolites with therapeutic properties found in UK species of Asteraceae. It will also explore the evolution of metabolic diversification in this plant family.

Based in the Patron Lab at the Earlham Institute, and in collaboration with the Osbourn Lab at the John Innes Centre, this project will be linked to the ‘Darwin Tree of Life’ initiative, which aims to sequence the genomes of all eukaryotic species in Britain. This project will use diverse techniques and technologies including bioinformatics, plant molecular biology and biochemistry as well as synthetic biology approaches. Training will be provided in all areas.