Biology and chemistry of plant seeds and fruits
Nutraceutical/pharmaceutical/medicinal components of seeds and fruits:
Plants contain a wide range of secondary compounds that may be useful as a medicinal or pharmaceutical product in the purified form, or as a nutraceutical or herbal remedy if used in a less refined form. Previous work in this area includes isolation and identification of novel galactosyl-inositols from buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) seeds that may have a role in treatment or prevention of type II diabetes, and investigating the stimulant methylxanthine components of guarana, which is prepared from Paullinia cupana seeds. Current research projects investigate natural products for bioactive or pharmaceutically valuable components, and using dendrimer technology to target anticancer compounds derived from plants.
Physiology and biochemistry of processes involved in seed longevity:
The majority of species produce seeds that have the ability to withstand extremely dry conditions for many years, retaining viability in order to germinate when provided with water at some later point in time. This enables germplasm storage for future use, conserving the biodiversity that may one day provide us with important lead compounds in drug discovery. Past research has included investigating the link between carbohydrate composition and seed longevity. Current research targets the role of maternal environment, harvest and storage conditions on seed longevity, and the relationship between seed ageing in the soil vs. controlled storage.
Physiology and biochemistry of germination control within seeds:
Seed germination is an essential step in the production of a plant, whether for nutritional, pharmaceutical or ecological purposes. Research is directed at a physiological level towards understanding, controlling and predicting seed germination. This has included an ARC Discovery project investigating a novel phytochrome-regulated dormancy mechanism in Lolium rigidum and an ARC Linkage project directed at controlling and predicting seed germination of Australian natives required for minesite revegetation. Current research includes an ARC Linkage project investigating Australian Alpine species.
Seeds in drug delivery:
As seeds can be stored for many years under dry conditions, essential nutrients and medicinal compounds produced by them can be stored and transported cheaply, and potentially dosed without further purification. Seeds may be used as a vehicle for protein drug delivery, removing the need to extract and formulate the protein product. Current research investigates the potential for the use of sorghum, an economically important summer crop in Australia, as a drug delivery agent in itself or as a source of components that may be extracted for use in formulations.