Dr Didier Ndeh

Royal Society University Research Fellowship

Plant Sciences, School of Life Sciences

Didier Ndeh
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My lab aims to understand the genetic and molecular basis of complex glycan metabolism and function in health and disease and how this knowledge can be exploited to improve plant, microbial, human health and the bioeconomy. To achieve this, we apply a variety of techniques in carbohydrate chemistry, enzymology, genetics, structural biology, microscopy and bioinformatics.

Complex Glycan Metabolism graphic shows the digestion system and plants

Background and current projects

Glycans are present in almost all life forms including plants, animals and microbes. They exhibit remarkable structural diversity and complexity, enabling them to participate in a variety of critical physiological and pathophysiological processes including cell signalling, growth, development, infection, metastasis, immunity, nutrition and disease. The importance of glycans is also exemplified by the fact that their exploitation has led to the development of several high value biologicals including therapeutics, vaccines, drug delivery systems, diagnostics and other glycan-based commercial products such as gelling agents, thickening agents, animal feeds and biofuels which have greatly enhanced human, plant health and the bioeconomy. Glycan research is however greatly hampered by glycan structural complexity, limited knowledge of glycan metabolism and function and availability of methods and enabling tools. These in turn limit our ability to exploit the full potential of glycans.  Focusing on some of nature’s most complex glycans, my group is currently developing new genetic/biochemical tools and approaches to enable us to address these important limitations. Some current projects include;

  1. A microbial glycan production platform for glycoscience research. We are working together with chemists to develop glycan production/analytical platforms and tools to expedite glycoscience research.
  2. Understanding the biosynthesis and function of the pectin rhamnogalacturonan II in plants. The plant cell wall glycan rhamnogalacturonan II (RG-II) is the most structurally complex glycan known. Increasing evidence suggests that it plays a critical role in plant growth and development as mutations that alter its structure and composition lead to strong developmental phenotypes. Recently we have unravelled new molecular details of RG-II and demonstrated that is an important nutrient source for the human gut microbiota, a key modulator of host health. Given the importance and potential of RG-II, detailed molecular studies into the biology of RGII in plants are highly required. We aim to gain new insights into its metabolism to underpin the study of its role in plant growth, development and other potential applications e.g., for crop improvement purposes or the production of next generation glycan-based health products
  3. Metabolism of complex glycans by the human gut microbiota. The human gut harbours a complex community of diverse microbial species, the human gut microbiota (HGM), whose activities greatly impact human health and disease status.  Its role in human health is further reinforced by several lines of evidence highlighting strong links between HGM composition and important human conditions such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Complex glycans, most of which are derived from dietary plant cell wall material are a major source of nutrients for the HGM. Understanding how the HGM interacts and metabolises these complex glycans could therefore inform pre-, probiotic and other therapeutic strategies to manipulate the HGM for human health benefit.
  4. Role of complex cell wall glycans in plant disease. This project aims to enhance our understanding of the role of complex plant cell wall glycans in plant disease and health by investigating their interactions with pathogenic and mutualistic plant microbes.


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