1. Natural Products. Medicinal plants (mainly from the family Lamiaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Capparaceae families) and fungi (from marine and terrestrial environments) are being examined in order to isolate and characterise their major natural products. Identification of metabolites with biological activity is an integral part of this project.
2. Microbial transformations. Natural products of agricultural and pharmaceutical interest are structurally modified using selected strains of fungi in an effort to produce a range of new analogues with enhanced bioactivity.
3. Steroids. Partial synthesis of steroid hormones is studied with the aim of identifying cheaper routes to the production of these costly biochemicals.
The aim of Prof. Paul Reese's research group is the discovery of new, natural products, mainly from local plants, but also from fungi. Many of the compounds isolated have potential as pharmaceuticals (to treat various diseases), while others show promise as prospective agrochemicals – acting against insects and other pests.
Their research methods involve the collection of plant or fungal material and the extraction of their important components. The individual compounds of the mixture are separated by chromatography, followed by the application of various spectroscopic techniques to identify them. Members of the terpenoid family of compounds are the main interest. Several bio-assays are then used to uncover the biological activity of the compounds (such as anti-cancer, cytotoxic or insecticidal activity).
Another exciting aspect of the group's investigations concentrate on taking what nature has provided and improving on it. This involves the conversion of isolated natural products to new, more biologically interesting compounds. Traditional methods of synthesis, utilising chemical reagents, are routinely applied. Alternatively, the use of fungal organisms to convert known bioactive compounds to completely new analogues is another specific focus area of research. This field is known as bio-catalysis or biotransformation. The group's approach is largely exploratory and is geared towards showing that new analogues with enhanced activity can be made more efficiently from existing natural products.
Another research interest involves the synthesis of unusual and more valuable steroids from cheaper, readily available analogues. During the course of these studies, the mechanisms of some organic reactions are elucidated.
Exciting opportunities are afforded by the isolation and generation of new compounds and the research has been progressing fruitfully. Currently, the group is improving the yield of products from their bio-catalysis experiments and working on the efficiency of the conversions by using immobilised microorganisms.
The Reese Group has published approximately 55 refereed research journal articles.
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