Ian Graham’s interests include how plants make and breakdown various metabolites, how these processes are controlled and how they impact on plant growth. He has used biochemical genetics to dissect the main metabolic pathways controlling oil mobilisation in Arabidopsis seed (Graham, 2008) provided new insight into how a lipid based signals (Dave et al., 2011) and light quality (Vaistij et al., 2018) control seed germination. He has used similar approaches to investigate the synthesis of bioactive compounds in two of the world’s major medicinal crops. This has led to new understanding of how genome rearrangement has shaped the evolution of plant metabolism. The discovery of a 10 gene cluster responsible for the production of the anti-cancer compound noscapine in opium poppy provided the tools for molecular breeding of new commercial varieties (Winzer et al., 2012).
The discovery of a novel P450 – oxidoreductase gene fusion described the last unknown step in synthesis of morphine and codeine (Winzer et al., 2015) and the first assembly of the opium poppy genome provided new insight into the evolution of morphinan production in this important medicinal crop (Guo et al., 2018). Characterisation and genetic mapping of traits responsible for production of artemisinin in Artemisia annua (Graham et al., 2010) has enabled development of F1 hybrid seed that can deliver a robust source of this vital anti-malarial drug for the developing world. Molecular genetic dissection of the key steps in artemisinin production has revealed new insight into the flexibility of sesquiterpene metabolism in glandular secretory trichomes and raises the prospect of using these structures for production of other valuable compounds in A. annua (Czechowski et al., 2016).
My teaching and scholarship activities mostly rely on examples from my own research to communicate the importance of asking the right questions in order to advance our understanding of biochemical processes. I emphasise the importance of fundamental understanding of how plants and microbes produce various chemicals and materials so that biotechnology based approaches can be used for the benefit of industry, society and the environment.
Higher plants produce an amazing array of chemicals that they use throughout their life cycle for various purposes including defence against pathogens and herbivores and attraction of pollinators. Many of these chemicals are bioactive and human societies have developed them for many uses including medicines, flavours and fragrances. My lectures focus on understanding how some of the world’s most important medicinal plants make drugs such as artemisinin, the main cure for malaria and codeine, one of the most effective painkillers. The use of genetic approaches to dissect biochemical processes is introduced and the potential of synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology are considered with examples from my own research and the literature.
Projects offered are always related to ongoing biochemistry and molecular genetics based research in the Graham laboratory. Bioinformatics plays a major role in assisting our research and we are currently offering projects that are focussed on analysing genome assemblies from medicinal plant species using various algorithms that allow novel gene discovery and gene cluster detection.