Metabolic diversity of UK plants

Identifying genes involved in the biosynthesis of metabolites with medicinal properties

Project Summary.

Plants synthesise a multitude of specialised 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 used as medicines, fragrances and industrial ingredients.

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

This project aims to identify genes required for biosynthesis of metabolites with therapeutic properties found in UK species of Asteraceae and to explore the mechanisms of metabolic diversification in this plant family.

Impact statement.

Plants are an important source of pharmacologically active compounds with many drugs being derived directly or indirectly from plant natural products.

This project aims to identify sources of known and unknown chemical diversity and reveal the genetic blueprints. In the future, this could pave the way for harnessing synthetic biology approaches for bio-based production.