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Southern Cross Plant Science

Natural Products

Scope

Our research on natural products is centred on their chemistry and biological activity. We work primarily on secondary metabolites from plants but also on compounds from algae and fungi.

The around 400,000 known plant species produce an astonishingly diverse array of chemical compounds. These are broadly divided into primary metabolites, which are essential for the short-term survival of the plant, such as carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids and nucleotides, and secondary metabolites, which may not be essential for the primary biochemical activities in the plant, but in many cases confers some kind of evolutionary advantage. For example, many secondary metabolites serve as chemical defence compounds against herbivores or infection, or they are involved in other types of interactions with different organisms (such as attraction of pollinators or allelopathy).

Secondary metabolites display great chemical diversity and are represented by many different classes of compounds, such as alkaloids, terpenes, flavonoids and a range of glycosides with different aglycone (non-sugar) moieties, such as cyanogenic glycosides, mustard oil glycosides (glucosinolates) and salicylate glycosides.Humans have a long and intimate relationship with natural products, not least in the form of medicinal agents, and more than 90% of therapeutic classes of drugs are derived from a natural product prototype. Microorganisms have yielded many important antibiotics, and fish and other marine organisms are the source of fatty acids with important health benefits. Plants have provided humans with medicines for millennia, and many modern drugs are still plant derived, such as opioids (incl. morphine and codeine), anti-cancer agents such as paclitaxel (Taxol®) and vincristine, and galanthamine, which is used for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.