Plants synthesise complex organic molecules which have great value to humankind. These compounds include medicines, fragrances and agrochemicals. Our research involves elucidating how plants make these compounds. More specifically, we are interested in the mechanism and evolution of plant biosynthetic enzymes, and the origin of metabolic pathways. This knowledge will be applied to enable production of valuable chemical products either in vitro or as part of metabolically engineered organisms.
Research in the lab targets three key aspects of plant natural product biosynthesis:
Molecular mechanisms: deciphering biosynthetic pathways, protein X-ray crystallography, enzyme mechanism.
Evolutionary origins: enzyme sub/neo-functionalisation, the formation of metabolic gene clusters, the phylogenomics of specialised metabolisms.
Practical applications: synthetic biology platforms for natural product production, industrial biocatalysis.
My teaching combines core scientific concepts with an emphasis on contemporary scientific developments. This aims to both challenge and enthuse students, and promote independent learning and thinking.
I offer tutorials on a range topics including synthetic biology and the evolution of enzymes. Tutorials involve a mixture of activities including presentations, literature reviews, debates and business pitches. The tutorials are designed to instill and foster interest in current scientific innovations whilst also aiding the development of a generalised skill set.
Research conducted in my lab will be under the broad topic of plant specialised metabolism. Projects range from enzyme discovery and characterisation, to genomics and phylogenetics, to biocatalysis and synthetic biology. Goals will be defined at the start of the project, but these are flexible depending on the interests of the student and project progression. Techniques and skills in biochemistry, molecular biology and bioinformatics will be learnt during the project.