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Design of plant-derived molecules building up the foundation for plant synthetic biology

1. Overview

Plant-derived molecules are highly essential for human life, as they are widely used such as pharmaceuticals, health products, agricultural compounds, and various materials. Plants produce such vast varieties of molecules via their biosynthesis pathways which have been acquired during their long years of -more than 450 million years- evolution. Recent rise of sustainability-oriented consumer needs and bioeconomy have prompted a high favour of plant derived products; however, our knowledge and tools to deliver more efficient plant bioproduction have been quite limited. The mechanisms that underlie plant biosynthesis, such as the involvement of highly duplicated genes and the interactions between plants and other organisms (symbiosis and infection) are quite complex and multi layered, which have been well beyond our current understanding. Therefore, the comprehensive understanding of plant biosynthesis, in particular, biosynthesis in useful plants are now urgently needed.
This strategic objective is to provide the comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that underlie plant biosynthesis in vivo and in ecosystems, particularly focusing on (plant-derived molecules and their related genes, which have not yet been in practical use. Key technologies have to be built up as well, to enable the efficient application of obtained outcomes. Diverse plant molecules are expected to be newly uncovered from crops, medicinal plants, and other plant species, as well as from model plants. Ranging from the structures, biological functions to mechanisms that control the biosynthesis of such newly found plant molecules will be elucidated. In addition to synthetic organic chemistry, which is Japan’s strength, recent advantages in analytical technologies, comparative genomics, and bioinformatics would be of great help. Such newly unearthed plant molecules would serve as foundations to create innovative plant-derived new molecules; manipulation of molecular structure could influence on plant biosynthesis and vice versa.

2. Targets

This strategic objective covers comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that underlie plant biosynthesis and developing key technologies that enable to produce innovative plant-derived molecules. To this aim, other than conventional plant science related techniques, it is strongly encouraged to employ various research tools such as recently advanced analytical technologies, comparative genomics which is empowered by bioinformatics, and synthetic organic chemistry. Three targets should be achieved as following.
(1) To uncover the useful plant-derived molecules and to understand their biosynthesis pathway
(2) To develop key bio-technologies that facilitate the manipulation of plant-derived molecules and its biosynthesis
(3) Research and development that enables the manipulation of plant-derived molecules and their biosynthesis in various useful plants

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Office for Basic Research Projects, Basic Research Promotion Division, Research Promotion Bureau