Exploring the Complexities of Chemistry from the Natural World
Chemistry mediates many of the interactions between micro-organisms in the natural world. Bacteria, fungi and other organisms (even humans!) produce and respond to chemical “cues” that shape their behaviour and survival. Because these compounds can take such varied structures and play such diverse biological roles, “natural products” are valuable sources of inspiration for new drugs to treat a range of diseases. For example, more than three-quarters of antibiotics trace their origins to compounds found in nature.
Scientists have studied natural-products chemistry for more than 100 years—yet accurately determining the complete chemical constitution of a given sample is still difficult. Harder still is predicting what role a given compound will play in a particular biological system.
To come up with better methods for identifying bioactive molecules from nature, Dr. Roger Linington, Canada Research Chair in High-Throughput Screening and Chemical Biology, is developing new analytical chemistry methods for characterizing natural products. By coupling these methods with new high-throughput screening tools, he and his research team aim to develop techniques for universally characterizing the structure and function of compounds from the natural world. (High-throughput screening is a drug-discovery process that uses automation to quickly test and identify the biological or biochemical activity of compounds.)
From a basic science perspective, these methods will lead to a better understanding of what compounds are produced by a given organism and how they are used in nature. In applied science, these methods may inspire new therapeutics—such as antibiotics—in a range of areas.