Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences
The major focus of my research has been in the elucidation of natural product biosynthesis in plants. This interest has oriented studies to the specialized organization, required to accommodate particular biosynthetic pathways. Model systems in my laboratory (Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) (Fig. 1) and in others have been used to study the cell and developmental biology required to create these specialized cells (Fig. 2 & 3). Studies have clearly established that natural products are produced within a small proportion of cells that compose the total organism. Cellular specialization appears to activate a) the supply of precursors derived from primary metabolic processes; b) specific biosynthetic pathways for converting primary metabolites into particular small molecules; c) particular sequestering mechanisms, including transport processes that trigger and permit the high level accumulation of end-products. In a few limited examples, large-scale sequencing of cDNA libraries prepared from individual cell-types has confirmed that plant cells become natural product biosynthesis factories through targeted biochemical differentiation.
Current studies are focusing on a) targeted sequencing of genes expressed in particular cells in order to identify the complement of genes required to create a particular cell factory; b) targeted expression of novel genes to harness such factories for the manufacture of a variety of useful natural products; c) isolation of regulatory control mechanisms responsible for cellular specialization. The novel chemistries generated may be used to a) defend plants against different plant pathogens, b) produce valuable medecines; c) produce new functional foods; d) produce valuable new aromas, flavours and colorants. Model systems used in this research include the Madagascar periwinkle, grape (Fig 4) tobacco (Fig 5) and Arabidopsis (Fig 6) .
BCHM 4P08/BTEC 4P06 Topics in plant and microbial biotechnology
- V. De Luca and P. Laflamme (2001) The expanding universe of alkaloid biosynthesis. Curr. Opinion in Plant Biology 4: 225-233.
- V. De Luca and B. St. Pierre (2000) The cell and developmental biology of alkaloid biosynthesis. Trends in Plant Sci. 5: 349-364.
- B. St. Pierre and V. De Luca (2000) Evolution of acyltransferase genes: origin and diversification of the BAHD superfamily of acyltransferases involved in secondary metabolism. Rec. Adv. Phytochem. 34: 285-315.
- P. Laflamme, B. St. Pierre and V. De Luca (2000) Molecular and biochemical analysis of a Catharanthus roseus G. Don root-specific minovincinine 19-hydroxy-O-acetyltransferase. Plant Physiology 125: 189-198.
- F. Vazquez Flota, B. St. Pierre and V. De Luca (2000) Light activation of vindoline biosynthesis does not require cytomorphogenesis in Catharanthus roseus seedlings. Phytochemistry 55: 531-536.
- G. Guillet, J. Poupart, J. Basurco, and V. De Luca (2000) Expression of Tryptophan Decarboxylase and Tyrosine Decarboxylase Genes in Tobacco Results in Altered Biochemical and Physiological Phenotypes Plant Physiol. 122: 933-944.
- G. Schroeder, E. Unterbusch, A. Kaltenbach, J. Schmidt, D. Strack, V. De Luca and J. Schroeder (1999) Light induced cytochrome p450-dependent enzyme in indole alkaloid biosynthesis : tabersonine-16-hydroxylase. FEBS Lett. 458 : 97-102
- B. St-Pierre, F. Vazquez-Flota, and V. De Luca (1999) Multicellular compartmentation of Catharanthus roseus Alkaloid Biosynthesis Predicts Intercellular Translocation of a Pathway Intermediate. Plant Cell 11: 887-900.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grants Program recognizes the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of all research advances. The grant supports ongoing programs of research with long-term goals.