The Christendat lab studies the functional diversification of shikimate pathway enzymes in plants, microbes, and apicomplexan parasites. There is also significant interest in the pathway itself for biotechnological applications. The shikimate pathway is absent in humans and other mammals, which makes it an attractive target for the development of antimicrobials, antifungals and herbicides. In plants, the pathway produces chorismate, a precursor for the biosynthesis of a variety of central metabolites including, anthocyanins, flavonoids and isoflavonoids which are potential antioxidants with important nutritional benefits to humans.
Plants produce a tremendous variety of aromatic compounds compared to other living organisms. Most of these compounds, referred to as central metabolites, are synthesized from a product of the shikimate pathway. Central metabolites are important for the structural integrity of plants and their protection from invading organisms. Other central metabolites include flavonoids and isoflavonoids, which are potential antioxidants with important nutritional benefits to humans.
The shikimate pathway is also an attractive target for drug development because it is absent in humans, but is essential for the survival of microbes, fungi and likely apicomplexan parasites. These parasites include, Plasmodium falciparum, associated with the deadliest form of malaria, and Toxoplasma gondii, implicated in psychological disorders and toxoplasmosis.