Institute Colloquium

Location: Faculty Hall

Institute Colloquium by Professor C Jayabaskaran, Chairman, Department of Biochemistry. Title: From genes to Natural Products and Back to Genes: A Journey across two kingdoms Date and Time: 24th October 4-00 p.m., Venue: Faculty Hall

Abstract: Mankind’s reliance on natural resources for health and disease mitigation has remained an integral part of all human civilizations. Propelled by the confluence of diverse scientific disciplines in addressing a range of human health challenges, currently the study and exploitation of natural products has reignited the worldwide interest of academicians, researchers, industrial houses, policy makers and social scientists alikein the exploration, R&D and conservation of natural resources. The dwindling biodiversity and climate change concerns make it all the more imperative before we lose many species. Plants and fungi are well known sources of bioactive secondary metabolites with potent medical, agricultural and industrial applications. The therapeutically valuable of these secondary metabolites have provided some of the most effective treatment still-date for various human diseases including cancer. Blockbuster anticancer drugs such as Taxol®, vincristine and vinblastine; antibiotics such as penicillins and cephalosporins; the immunosuppressantdrug cyclosporine used in organs transplants and the cholesterol lowering agents known as statins stand aglaring testimony to what has been and what could further be achieved in lowering the human disease burden using natural products or their derivatives.

Long before the present-day fascination with pharmaceutically valuable ‘secondary metabolites’ from plants and ‘endophytic fungi’ – a class of fungi isolated from within plant tissues and cultured in vitro for obtaining bioactive molecules, my research had focussed on the traditional plant molecular biology with tRNAs. In the first half of my talk, I will discuss the work bringing about a transition in my objectives to the applied plant sciences eventually triggering a switch in my passion to the topic of ‘plant and endophytic fungal secondary metabolites’, an area advancing in parallel to the activities in the wider field of metabolic engineering. Several groups have shown the production of identical medicinal compounds by endophytic fungi of certain plants as confirmed by the culturing of individual endophytes followed by purification and characterization of their natural products. In the light of this, our work on some of the FDA approved and novel anticancer, anti-thrombin and other pharmaceutically useful compounds from well known plants and their endophytic fungi will be discussed in the second half of my talk. Towards the end, I will illustrate the problems associated with the low yields of the relevant compounds by target plants/endophytic fungi and various strategies to enhance their production including the application of culture elicitation and optimization, genetic engineering, and the genomics guided platforms –our future goals.