Toni is currently investigating two aspects of natural products that are found in plants; how plants produce medicinal natural products at the enzyme and gene level, which could lead to new sources of medications for use against conditions such as dementia and cancer; and the use of plant natural products as components of biofuels.
Pathways to Natural Products
Research in the Kutchan lab is aimed at elucidating the biosynthetic pathways of selected medicinal compounds in plants and developing improved sources of these chemicals. The lab investigates how plants make special chemicals called natural products. These chemicals frequently are used as medicines, either as pure compounds by pharmaceutical industry, or as mixtures in traditional medicines. Selected natural products are currently being investigated in the laboratory in mature plants and in tissue and cell culture. Lab members participate in national and international projects that involve deep transcriptome sequencing of medicinal plants (http://uic.edu/pharmacy/MedPlTranscriptome/
) using next generation sequencing technologies and in developing bioinformatic approaches to interrogating these datasets for biochemical pathway genes. This research is aimed at understanding the formation of medicinal compounds in selected plants at the enzyme and gene levels, which is central to improving the production of pharmaceuticals either in planta or in a heterologous host such as yeast or bacteria.
Production of Cyclic Hydrocarbons in Oilseed: Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems (CABS)
Jet fuel is a mixture of many different hydrocarbons. Modern analytical techniques indicate that there may be a thousand or more. The range of their sizes (carbon numbers) is restricted by specific physical requirements of a specific jet fuel product. Kerosine-type jet fuel has a carbon number distribution between about 8 and 16 carbons. Most of the hydrocarbons in jet fuel are members of the paraffin, naphthene and aromatic classes. The compounds that boil near the middle of the kerosine-type jet fuel boiling-range are C10 aromatics, C11 naphthenes, and C12 waxes. Plants synthesize a wide repertoire of cyclic and linear low molecular weight compounds. An introduction of relatively few low molecular weight metabolite biosynthetic genes into a heterologous host such as an oilseed could result in the production and accumulation of low molecular weight hydrocarbons that could serve either directly as biofuels or as chemical precursors to aromatics, naphthenes or waxes. In planta, C-10 terpenes (monoterpenes) are synthesized in plastids of specialized gland cells from precursors derived via the non-mevalonate pathway from pyruvate and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. C-15 terpenes (sesquiterpenes) are synthesized in the cytosol via the mevalonate pathway from acetyl-CoA. The volatile products of mono- and sesquiterpene biosynthesis are either secreted into specialized storage cavities or are released to the atmosphere. The Kutchan lab is producing mono- and sesquiterpenes in plastids and cytosol in oilseed towards the ultimate goal of developing alternate sources of biofuels. CABS website
Technologies available for license:
DDPSC0035-401-PC Methods for High Yield Production of Terpenes