Gene Discovery & Metabolic Engineering in Medicinal Plants

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To address the current shortcomings for designing effective plant metabolic engineering strategies, a functional genomics based technology platform has been created that enables comprehensive investigations and large-scale gene discovery programmes for metabolism of model and medicinal plants.

The platform is built on the integration of genome-wide transcriptomics, interactomics, proteomics and metabolomics analysis, followed by large-scale functional gene analysis in automated transient expression assays or stably transformed plants or plant cultures. In principle, the platform is applicable to any plant species or system to map the biosynthesis of any metabolite.

More in particular, we exploit the elicitation power of jasmonates to grasp the biosynthesis of high-value pharmaceutical compounds in medicinal plants. Jasmonate can be employed universally across the plant kingdom to create inducible conditions, not only for the biosynthesis of the metabolites itself, but also for the formation of the specialized producer cells or organs, such as the glandular trichomes. By profiling jasmonate-elicited cells or tissues of amongst others the model plants Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula, the crop plant Solanum lycopersicum (tomato), the medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus (producing the anti-cancer compounds vinblastine and vincristine), and others, we have built an extensive collection of genes involved in all aspects of plant specialized metabolism. Such collections, which are continuously being expanded, allow increasing our understanding of plant metabolism and are assessed as a novel resource for plant metabolic engineering tools.

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Medicinal plant species profiled