Laetitia’s work focuses on the Chilean soapbark tree, Quillaja saponaria (Quillay), which is known to produce around 100 different saponins.
One of this saponin, termed QS-21, has some immunoadjuvant properties and is now part of the formulation of around 20 vaccines, either approved or under trial, that target prominent human diseases such as cancer, malaria and shingles.
This recent use of QS-21 threatens the scarce natural resources of Quillay, necessitating alternative production of QS-21. However, although its complex molecular structure is elucidated, none of the genes of the pathway are known, so hindering development of strategies for sustainable production of QS-21 in heterologous hosts.
The aim of her research is to characterize QS-21 pathway, with the end goal of heterologously express QS-21 in Nicotiana benthamiana agroinfiltrated leaves.