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Research Fellows Directory

Sarah O'Connor

Professor Sarah O'Connor

Research Fellow


University of East Anglia

Research summary

The metabolism of plants has long provided a wealth of valuable molecules that can be used for the benefit of society, such as drugs. However, the complexity of plant genetics and plant development has hindered our ability to understand and manipulate the metabolic pathways that produce these compounds. For example, the biosynthesis of many extraordinarily valuable plant derived pharmaceuticals – artemisinin, vinblastine, Taxol, just to name a few – remain unelucidated. This lack of knowledge impedes our ability to generate plants or microbial hosts that produce greater amounts of these compounds, or modified versions of these compounds. In summary, my group’s overall goal is to harness the the biochemistry that occurs in plant natural product metabolism.

The medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) is the source of vinblastine and vincristine, two potent anti-cancer alkaloids that have been used in the clinic since the 1960’s, and C. roseus is still the commercial source for these compounds. Despite decades of research, the mechanism of biosynthesis for these alkaloids is largely unknown at the biochemical and genetic level, which testifies to the challenges inherent in studying these pathways. We have made substantial inroads into understanding how C. roseus makes these compounds, and subse quently, how we can engineer organisms to make more of these compounds. We have also demonstrated that we can genetically manipulate C. roseus to reprogra

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Understanding and Engineering Alkaloid Biosynthesis in Madagascar Periwinkle

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: May 2011 - Oct 2014

Value: £65,000

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