High Value Plant Products – From discovery to final product
Plant natural products have been utilised by human civilisation for millennia, providing vital medicines and essential dietary components. More recently bioactive compounds from plant sources have been used in cosmetics, as health supplements and are important components of feedstuffs. Despite significant investments new activities and new sustainable biosources are required to reduce or eliminate chemical refining and thus environmental impact.
Against this backdrop, DISCO aims to understand plant biosynthetic pathways involved in the formation of high-value plant products and develop new tools for metabolic engineering and molecular breeding to generate new biosources of bioactive and industrial phytochemicals. DISCO is funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7) with a total budget of 6.5 million euros. The DISCO coordinator, Professor Paul D. Fraser of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (UK) has brought together a multinational and multidisciplinary alliance of experts from fifteen academic and industrial partner institutions that will translate discovery into industrial feasibility and/or commercialisation.
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DISCO will identify new or under-utilised sustainable biosources of plant-derived compounds of pharmaceutical and industrial interest.
DISCO will develop new tools and strategies to optimise secondary metabolite production in plants.
From discovery to products: DISCO will demonstrate feasibility of plant based renewable production and effectiveness of the derived products.
Within DISCO module 1 bioprospecting of untapped, rare and underutilised species and ecotypes will be carried out. The focus will be on Solanaceae and Iridaceae genera because of their vast array of secondary metabolites, some of which have been exploited previously by mankind.
To fully capture the biochemical diversity in these collections state of art metabolomic procedures will be used to assess and identify low abundance secondary metabolites of interest and global metabolite composition. To ensure the project does not just catalog chemical entities from diversity, module one will also utilise modern proprietary in vitro, in vivo and ex-vivo high throughput SMART bioassays, in order to assess bioactivity against prevalent societal disease states.
Furthermore, within module one, the elucidation of biosynthetic pathways associated with the formation of bioactives and useful metabolites will be a dedicated activity. Here the precise biochemical steps, enzymes responsible, their encoding genes and alleles as well as the regulatory mechanisms operating will be identified and characterised using the very latest methodologies.
The bioactive molecules and their biochemical pathways targeted include apo-carotenoids, terpenoids and tropane alkaloids.
DISCO module 2 is concerned with application and the implementation of genetic intervention pipelines. It shall be ensured that the very latest procedures are in place to facilitate rapid and efficient metabolic engineering and molecular breeding. To address this requirement a dedicated enabling technologies platform will operate.
The DISCO partners have vast experience in the metabolic engineering of biochemical pathways, in some cases pioneering the technology and bringing the technology, when in its infancy, to the market place.
An important activity within this module will be to transfer this technology to new pathways and regulatory mechanisms, creating a pipeline of efficient metabolic engineering activity. The approach will extend the expertise gained to other high value products and ensure improvements in the technologies are incorporated into strategies at the earliest opportunity.
In addition to the metabolic engineering approaches which are essential when no terrestrial or viable sources exist, molecular breeding procedures will be implemented. Significant investments have generated vast exploitable genetic resources in Solanaceae and these resources will be used in the DISCO project to facilitate molecular breeding pipelines for high value bioactive molecules of interest.
DISCO module 3 is concerned with the translation and industrial valorisation. The activities in this module shall represent a timely opportunity to potentially translate innovation into commercial practice. Feasibility studies on a production scale and then product effectiveness will be performed. Coupled to this process will be co-product generation and biomass utilisation. The data generated will enable cost-benefit analysis and economic assessment. These data will facilitate industrial evaluation of the commercial opportunities that exist and their potential in the market place.