Hacking catnip plants to make novel insect repellents

FUNDING: 9 weeks (full time, 37 hrs per week, £12 per hour, £1000 consumables, McQueen-Mason studentship funding)
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Dr. Cobus Smit, Biology, York

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Plants from the mint family are renowned for their aromatic and medicinal properties largely due to the presence of compounds known as terpenes (e.g. menthol in spearmint). The pathways that produce terpenes are ubiquitous in nature with species-specific mechanisms to add oxygen or sugars. This project will explore these mechanisms to decorate terpenes in the aromatic plant catnip (Nepeta cataria). Catnip produces a class of terpenes known as iridoids that have known medicinal, antimicrobial and insect repellent properties. We will establish a new method to overexpress genes in catnip. We will first test the method by expressing a gene that makes fluorescent proteins in leaves and are visible under UV light. We will then express genes that have the potential to add new decorating groups onto catnip iridoids. The student will be able to learn aspects of molecular biology, plant pathway engineering, metabolite extraction and analysis using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The student will join the Lichman lab where they will take part in regular lab meetings, journal clubs and receive training to present their findings orally. Students will be expected to present their findings orally at a research day in York in September 2024.