News

Friday, 10 November 2017
Congratulations to post-doc Dr Joel Haywood who was awarded a 3-year ARC DECRA Fellowship "Structure-based investigations into new modes of action for herbicides".
Wednesday, 1 November 2017
A lay article by Josh on the history leading to recent work on antimalarial herbicides out in Sci. Rep. and Angewandte Chemie featured in the September issue of Australasian Science magazine. The article "Malaria Drugs Offer New Herbicide Targets" can now be downloaded. Click here for the PDF.
Monday, 30 October 2017
Congratulations to Amy James who today submitted her PhD thesis entitled "Evolutionary insights into two plant protein families: Bowman-Birk inhibitors and asparaginyl endopeptidases" for examination. The floppy hat beckons!
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
A grant application led by CSIRO's Jonathan Anderson and partnered with our lab was successful. The goal is to develop peptides that transport RNA for plant protection and a 3-year fellow will be employed to work on this at CSIRO in Floreat.
Archived Lab News

Plants, proteins and their evolution
Our research examines the genetic events that evolve new plant proteins, especially ones with pharmaceutical applications. This not only provides fundamental new knowledge about protein evolution, but also provides opportunities to engineer plants to produce these valuable molecules.

We have discovered precursor proteins and the biosynthetic routes for three very different classes of cyclic peptides, all of interest to drug designers. Combining a background in classical genetics and developmental biology with the biomedical atmosphere of our current location, we find our interests falling into three related areas of research that ask; 1) what are the genetic events that evolved drug-like peptides in plants; 2) how do plants make the peptides created by these genetic events plus how malleable are plants as a drug production system; and 3) can plants reveal the mode-of-action for drugs and enable the design of new drugs? Our goal is to convince the scientific community that plants are not just a source of drugs, but also a viable platform to produce and study them.

Plant Biology

Plant 'genetic backflips' make bioactive peptides

We have characterised the genetic origin for several different peptides of great interest to drug designers and each time we find a precursor, it seems each plant has undergone a genetic rearrangement event to make the peptides. We seek to understand why plants are going out of their way to make such bioactive peptides as well as understand how some of the genetic events came about.

Biomedical

Plants to make new drugs and understand existing drugs

Understanding the biosynthetic route for gene-encoded, bioactive peptides allows one to move these genes into other species and use them as production systems. We are currently working on two seed production systems, one via a sunflower protein and another from a gourd (pumpkin family) family of proteins. We have also started using the model plant Arabidopsis to study in-use human drugs.

Biochemistry

How plants bend, fold, cut and glue proteins into rings

We have stumbled upon an extraordinary case of protein hijack in sunflower where a protease inhibiting peptide ring is processed out of a much larger and completely unrelated protein. It is offering an opportunity to study the co-option of proteases to perform ligation reactions as well as begin to appreciate the role that chaperones play in this process both in vitro and in vivo.