Natural products chemistry
Dr Rob Keyzers
We study metabolites from a variety of matrices, including food, and isolate and characterise novel bioactive compounds from New Zealand and the Pacific region.
Isolating bioactive molecules from mixtures can be done in two different ways. The mixture can either be separated on the basis of its behaviour in a biological assay (activity-guided), or by isolating molecules from the mixture that have interesting chemical structures (structure-guided). The aim of both is the same—to find new pharmaceutical leads.
We begin with anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial assays for our activity-guided isolation, as well as a number of purification techniques to isolate the compounds of interest.
Structural identification of the active components follows, using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Our premise is that chemical novelty equates to bioactive novelty as irrelevant metabolites are bred out through natural selection.
Finally, we synthesise the target molecules we have isolated. Analogues are also synthesised to help identify potential structure-activity relationships that may prove useful for the development of new pharmaceuticals, to confirm the chemical structure we have determined for the compound and to provide a reliable supply of the compound for testing.
Secondary metabolites are a broad class of compounds that have an important role in the flavour and aroma of plant-derived foods and beverages. Primary metabolites are common to all organisms and are necessary for life, but secondary metabolites are specific to the species of plant and are non-essential, although they do bring some ecological advantage to the plant.
We are working on the metabolic profile of various products. Current projects involve identifying links between the secondary metabolites of various fruits with their bioactive components, using metabolomics to find natural resources to fight plant pathogens (including Kauri dieback), and to probe symbiotic organisms to find new chemistry.