Poxleitner, MarianneAssistant Professor | Email: email@example.com | Phone Extension: 5547 | Office Hours: Tuesday 10-11AM, Wednesday 1-3PM, Thursday 2-3PM
- ABC Picnic! - September 15, 2010 3:16 PM
I am investigating the evolution of cocaine biosynthesis. Several species of the plant Erythroxylum produce cocaine, a tropane alkaloid, in their leaves. Two species, E. coca and E. novogranatense, are cultivated for the illicit extraction and processing of cocaine to be sold as an illegal drug on the international market. Despite its economic importance, the evolutionary history of the genus remains largely unknown, even for the cultivated species. My research project will look for he presence or absence of alkaloid precursors in wild Erythroxylum species collected in the Caribbean and Cubu. I am looking for a student to extract alkaloids from Erythroxylum leaf samples and identify individual alkaloids using gas chromatography. This data will help me answer the following questions: Where does synthesis of cocaine begin along the evolutionary tree versus synthesis of its precursors? Is synthesis of cocaine restricted to one evolutionary branch of the genus? Does synthesis of the precursors occur across the genus, is it restricted to one or two evolutionary branches, or does it occur across the family? Over time, these questions could be expanded to investigate what is occurring at the gene level and how that relates to the same or similar genes in angiosperms.
My lab is also starting a plant biotechnology project to increase the resistance of locally grown peas to aphids. Cultivars of Pisum sativum (peas) will be transformed to express a gene coding for a sesquiterpene pheromone to act as a biological control against aphid predation and crop loss. When produced in the plant, the sesquiterpene functions to repel aphids and act as a kairomone to attract aphid predators. This work will include cloning of the pheromone gene, transformation of pea plants to express the gene, and characterization of transformants. This work will be carried out in collaboration with Dr. Gary Chang.