High value products from plants
Theme leaders: Sarah O’Connor, Maria O’Connell, George Lomonossoff
Plants represent an attractive platform for production of therapeutic proteins and vaccines since they offer several advantages over established bacterial, yeast, insect cell, mammalian cell and cell-free production systems. These include high biomass, ease of scalability, cost effectiveness and a low risk of contamination with endotoxins or human pathogens. In addition, unlike prokaryotic expression systems, plants are capable of introducing eukaryotic post-translational modifications such as glycosylation and hence can be used for production of complex eukaryotic proteins.
Plants are also a rich source of high value small molecules that are valuable as industrial or pharmaceutical products. Examples include anti-cancer agents such as vinblastine and taxol, the analgesic morphine, and the anti-malarials artemisinin and quinine. There is a growing need to reduce our dependence on products derived from chemical refineries and to find ways of accessing green, environmentally friendly alternatives. Further, many of the natural products that are produced by plants are structurally complex and beyond the reach of chemical synthesis. These compounds are commonly extracted from plant material either growing in the wild or in cultivation. Availability is limited by difficulties in accessing and cultivating source species, low yield and problems of purification. The scale of the economic opportunity for improving the supply of high value products from plants is therefore enormous.
The Norwich Research Park (NRP) has internationally acknowledged expertise in the development of new vaccines and therapeutics using innovative plant transient expression technology, and in the genomics, bioinformatics, genetics, molecular genetics, natural product chemistry and metabolic engineering approaches needed for the discovery, harnessing and optimisation of plant-derived small molecules for potential medicinal, agricultural and industrial biotechnology applications. This theme brings together this multi-disciplinary research base to address grand challenges central to health, agriculture and environmental sustainability.
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