Biorefining involves “refining” multiple useful products from biomass. Biorefining of plant fibres produces by-products, such as the class of chemicals known as phenylpropanoids. These phenylpropanoid by-products can be used to produce more useful, high-value compounds such as curcuminoids.You will have all seen curcuminoids when you eat a curry- they are the chemicals that gives turmeric its yellow colour. Research has shown these molecules to be anti-tumour, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory as well as providing neuroprotection. Therefore, to be able to sustainably produce these compounds in high yields is very lucrative.
My project aims to produce curcuminoids using baker’s yeast. This involves taking the enzymes that produce curcuminoids in turmeric (Curcuma longa) and expressing them in yeast. The yeast will then be fed using various phenylpropanoids and the yield of curcuminoids will be monitored. I will then focus on optimising this metabolic pathway and investigate ways of elaborating the chemical structure of curcuminoids by adding new enzymes to the system.
I am a second year PhD student studying at The University of York under the supervision of Professors Ian Graham and Robert Edwards. I am undertaking a project in industrial biotechnology that aims to metabolically engineer yeast to produce plant natural products. This project allows me to explore the interface of chemistry and biology which I am very passionate about; in particular, the synthesis of complex, bioactive chemicals such as plant secondary metabolites.