Dr. Jia Li has recently returned from a three-week visit to Brazil in the Department of Chemistry, the Federal University of Alagoas, Maceió, (Maceió is a medium size city on the north east coast of Brazil). Jia was accompanied by Prof. Geoff Hawkes (a visiting researcher in the Department), and their visit was funded by the Brazilian national research organisations CNPq/CAPES under their Science without Frontiers programme.
The funding award is to enable a crop protection project which seeks to identify changes induced in the metabolome of sugar cane subjected to herbivorous attack by the parasitic larvae diatraea saccharalis. This parasite is responsible for significant loss of sugar production in Brazil (and indeed it is a global problem).
The methodology is to use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, coupled with multivariate statistical analytical methods to determine changes in metabolite levels in extracts from the plant, before and after the herbivory. The metabolic response by the sugar cane may then direct GM, with the aim to produce cane species more resistant to the parasite.
Jia spent her time in Maceió teaching postgraduate students about the relevant multivariate statistics, and how to use the software available for the analysis. She also found time to present a faculty seminar on her own research at IC (Metabonomics in clinical research), and to meet with the university Principal, Prof. Eurico Lôbo, who is very keen to promote the Science without Frontiers programme, and to hear first hand of progress on the sugar cane project.
Geoff’s input was to work with the postgraduate students to optimise the collection of the experimental NMR data. Like Jia he also presented a faculty seminar describing progress on a parallel project (working with Jia at IC) using NMR to search for therapeutic compounds in extracts from plants used in traditional S. African Zulu medicine.
At the same time that Jia and Geoff were in Brazil, Prof. Elaine Holmes was in Lima, Peru as a key member of the organisation for the first meeting of the Latin American Metabolic Profiling Society (LAMPS). This international meeting attracted more than 100 participants, mostly from Central and South America. Geoff Hawkes was able to travel the breadth of the continent to give an oral presentation on progress on the sugar cane project.
By Prof Geoff Hawkes