Nick Bennett Theme: Sustainable Feedstock, Synthetic Biology Cohort Year: 2017 Academic Partner: University of Edinburgh Industry Partner: Unilever

Supervisor: Prof. Gary Loake

I undertook my undergraduate at the University of Bath in straight biology. Over the course of four years I developed a keen interest in green technology and plant science. During my placement year I had the fantastic experience of research in the USA, spending a year in Dr Christopher Ahern’s Lab working on a putative binding interaction between the alpha and beta subunits of the NAV1.1 channel. After graduating I spent a year working in a quality control lab for Actavis/Intas Pharmaceuticals which gave me valuable experience of working in industry led science and the goals and considerations a company would bring to a project. Currently my area of interest, focussing on applying, adapting further academic research for industrial use bridges the two fields. Therefore an industrial partnership that an IbioIC studentship provides was the obvious choice and one which I hope will be a constructive and beneficial partnership over the next few years.

My Project
The huge array of metabolites produced by plants is an irreplaceable source for both modern and future pharmaceuticals with 25% of current products and 70% of anticancer drugs on the market being plant derived. With only 1-2% of higher plants having been screened, plant natural products (PNPs) therefore represent a mostly untapped resource.  Extraction from the source plant is often seasonally, developmentally and tissue dependant, this, in addition to typically low yields can lead to extensive depletion and environmental loss. Synthetic reconstruction has also proved problematic.
Traditional plant cell culture derived from dedifferentiated plant cells (DDCs) has been held back by low and inconsistent yields.  The recent isolation and cultivation of cambial meristematic cells has revived interest in plant cell culture for industrial applications. CMC’s demonstrate greatly superior growth rate, resilience, secretion levels and secondary metabolite production.
Two compounds have been identified which show a wide range of potential therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-microbial activity. However typical yields from the current source are low and cannot keep pace with consumer demand. We are interested in utilising CMC culture to meet this demand. Over the course of the next year we hope to characterise the abilities of our CMCs to meet this demand and explore ways of further improving potential yields, costs and ease of use. Other valuable insights will be gained in transformation and scale up experiments which we hope to apply to the production of all PNPs.