During the last century, scientists have been intensively exploiting the plant world in their search for secondary metabolites, which provide for a large range of human uses. Developments in the last twenty years have clearly demonstrated that secondary metabolites fulfill many key biological roles in plants, and some studies have suggested that some secondary metabolites such as flavonoids (a group of aromatic compounds that includes many common pigments) may have important disease fighting properties.
The Canada Research Chair in Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Dr. Vincenzo De Luca, has focused his research on explaining natural product biosynthesis in plants. He will continue to study how plants generate cell-specific biochemical factories for natural product biosynthesis. The outcome of this research will be to produce detailed information about the balance of genes that are responsible for creating particular cell factories, and to create new pathways. The novel chemistries generated may be used to: defend plants against different plant pathogens; produce valuable medicines; produce new functional foods; and produce valuable new aromas, flavours and colorants.
As an example of the research application in industry, simple field-based global metabolic measurements could be used to define the most appropriate time to harvest grapes for making wine. Such technology may also be applicable to a number of other crops. The value of this technology can be tested at Brock University's Cool Climate and Oenology Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), where there are excellent facilities for making wine under highly defined experimental conditions.
Dr. De Luca's innovative, interdisciplinary program will involve the collaborative efforts of molecular biologists, plant physiologists, pathologists and analytical chemists. His research will attract students and researchers from Canada and abroad, since implementation will require training in the skilled use of novel tools for genomics, proteomics, metabolic flux analysis and metabolic profiling, highly useful skills in academic and industrial laboratories.