The major component of my research program investigates the biological chemistry of marine plants and animals, specifically the chemical structures and biological effects of the natural chemicals that they produce.
Our research explores the structures (including stereochemistry), biosynthesis, and chemical ecology of bioactive metabolites isolated from sponges, ascidians, and molluscs. In our work, the biochemical pathways by which these metabolites are produced have been investigated by incorporation of labelled intermediates. In this way, my group has explored the origin of cytotoxic sesqui- and diterpene isonitrile/isothiocyanate metabolites in marine sponges, and of marine polypropionate antibiotics from siphonariid limpets. I also have an interest in determining the site of synthesis and biological function of the bioactive metabolites. Ongoing synthetic studies linked to our biosynthetic research are directed towards the synthesis of sesquiterpene isonitriles and alkaloids.
We have explored the role of microbial symbionts in the formation of sponge-derived metabolites. A collaboration with the zoology department explored the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of sponge chemicals on settlement and metamorphosis of a common fouling invertebrate, the ascidian.
A second area of current research interest is the natural products chemistry of medicinal plants from SE Asia, particularly Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. The genera Pandanus, Fagraea, and Durio have been of particular interest, and have provided novel and bioactive alkaloid, lignan and terpene structures.