Plant and microbial cells resemble factories, synthesising a wealth of diverse molecules.
Plants and microbes synthesise proteins, fats and carbohydrates that make up their cellular structures and food stores, and a wealth of scent, colour, protectant, toxin and signalling molecules that promote their survival.
These molecules are also essential to humankind. They constitute our food, and have a multitude of other uses including biofuels, medicines, flavours, fragrances, pesticides and herbicides.
In the MET Institute Strategic Programme, we study how plants and microbes generate this diversity of molecules. Our results will contribute to increased, sustainable crop productivity, health-promoting diets, preventative medicines, ‘green’ industrial processes and new antibiotics.
The Institute Strategic Programme on Understanding Plant and Microbial Metabolism (MET)
Drugs from Plants
MET researchers work on improving the production of medicinal compounds, such as anti-cancer drugs, from plant species such as the Madagascar Periwinkle
A tobacco leaf seen under fluorescent light after injection with genes for the production of protein (green), and avenacin, a fluorescent anti-fungal molecule (blue). MET researchers have developed this technology to turn plants into protein factories.
Structure of the inside of a starch granule from a potato tuber. The granule is about 0.1mm long.
By creating tomatoes that produce high levels of purple pigment anthocyanin, we can assess the health promoting properties of this molecule.
Cowpea Mosaic Virus (CPMV)
Plant virus CPMV, genetically modified to include part of the human Rhinovirus (cause of the common cold, in red) produced antibodies against rhinovirus in animals. This research in mid 1990s was a milestone in the development of plant-based vaccines.
Research on the genetic control of flower colour in Antirrhinum majus at John Innes in the 1930s led to discoveries about genes that control synthesis of flower pigments. This underpins current work on the health promoting properties of such pigments.
Scientists at JIC discovered genes responsible for development of tendrils, colour, seed shape and plant height in peas. Research now focuses on seed quality, including protein content and micronutrients.
First genetic engineering experiment to create a novel antibiotic, carried out at JI in the 1980s. Pictured: Streptomyces colonies producing the antibiotics actinorhodin (blue), medermycin (yellow), and the hybrid, engineered antibiotic mederrhodin (red).
Biological ChemistryView all 'Exploring Nature's Factories' Scientists