Anne OsbournView all speakers
Professor Anne Osbourn leads the Institute Strategic Programme on Understanding and Exploiting Plant and Microbial Metabolism at John Innes and is also an Associate Research Director of the Centre. Her research focuses on plant-derived natural products – function, synthesis and metabolic diversification. Anne’s group works with crop and model plants, and uses a wide range of multidisciplinary approaches including genetics, genomics, computational biology, cell biology, protein and small molecule biochemistry.
An important advance from the Osbourn laboratory has been the discovery that genes for specialized metabolic pathways are organized in ‘operon-like’ clusters in plant genomes, a finding that has opened up new opportunities for elucidation of new pathways and chemistries through genome mining.
Anne is a member of an international synthetic biology consortium jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK) and the National Science Foundation (US) that aims to develop methods for directed evolution of metabolic pathways using recombinase-based multi-gene assembly platforms. She has also developed and co-ordinates the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) initiative, a cross-curricular science education programme for schools (www.sawtrust.org).
Plants produce a tremendous array of natural products (many of which are specialised metabolites associated with particular species), including medicines, flavours, fragrances, pigments and insecticides. The vast majority of this metabolic diversity is as yet untapped, despite its huge potential value for humankind. So far, research into natural products for the development of drugs, antibiotics and other useful chemicals has tended to focus on microbes, where genome sequencing has revolutionised natural product discovery through mining for gene clusters for new metabolic pathways. Identifying novel natural product pathways in plants is extremely difficult because plant genomes are much larger and more complex than those of microbes. However, the recent discovery that genes for some types of plant natural product pathways are organised as physical clusters is now enabling systematic mining of plant genomes in the quest for new pathways and chemistries. Improved understanding of the genomic organization and regulation of different types of specialized metabolic pathways will shed light on the mechanisms underpinning pathway and genome evolution. It will also open up unprecedented opportunities for exploiting Nature’s chemical toolkit.