Case study: Professor Anne Osbourn

International Exchange, 2016-2018
John Innes Centre, UK and Institute of Chemistry-Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology
Analysis of triperpene biosynthesis and diversity in neem

"I first met my collaborator Dr Tu on a BBSRC-sponsored visit to Vietnam to explore potential synergies in the area of natural products. I have carried out extensive research on triterpenes, one of the largest and most structurally diverse groups of plant natural products. Dr Tu had experience of working with insecticidal triterpenes from neem, but did not have the expertise or infrastructure to investigate the biosynthetic pathway for these compounds. 

"The project arose from our mutual interest in these compounds. Two of my lab members visited Vietnam in year 1 to meet staff there, see the facilities and go out into the field. Dr Tu and Dr Le then visited John Innes, and Dr Le gained practical experience of metabolomics and molecular biology during her visit. We currently have another member of Dr Tu’s team here, who is learning about heterologous expression of biosynthetic genes in tobacco. 

"The grant is drawing to a close, and most of the objectives have been achieved. We are still in the process of working with the Vietnamese authorities to obtain permission to import neem accessions, but the project did not depend on this and this aspect of the work has been a very valuable learning experience for all involved. 

"My student has written a blog about her experiences of this and we have developed a co-learning workshop that we ran last summer to engage a broad audience in discussion around responsible stewardship of the world’s plants. A manuscript will be published arising from our joint work once we have enough data. 

"Dr Tu is seeking funding from Vietnam for further work with us, and the John Innes Centre has established a formal link with his institute to enable broader collaboration. We are also considering seeking Newton funding to support further work."