Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sam Livingston

I’ve always had a general interest in biology, but it wasn’t until my final undergraduate year at UBC that my interest in plant biology was realized. Under the supervision and support of Dr. Geoff Wasteneys and Ph.D candidate Ryan Eng, I was able to spend 16 months studying how microtubule dynamics contribute to the development of epidermal root tissues as they dig their way through the soil in search of water and nutrients. That directed study was what convinced me that graduate studies in plant research was something I wanted to pursue. I graduated with a BSc in Biology with a focus in genetics and cell biology from UBC in May 2015.

I have since begun my PhD co-supervised by Dr. Samuels and Dr. Jon Page from Anandia Labs. My research focuses on the development of a particular type of tissue called glandular trichomes. Have you ever crushed or rubbed your hand on the leaves or flowers of peppermint, tomato, sage, or lavender? That strong aroma is largely due to the accumulation of oily compounds within the glandular trichomes on the surface of the leaf, which get broken and release their oils. These trichomes, and the oils they produce, are involved in plant defense and communication, but nearly all humans worldwide use these compounds on a daily basis in one form or another. Menthol, from the trichomes of peppermint, is found in toothpaste and gum, and is a local anaesthetic in cold medicines. Lavender oil smells lovely as an addition to perfumes and cosmetics, and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. One particular compound from the Artemisia family of plants is the most commonly used, and most effective, treatment for malaria. These compounds have been used for thousands of years, improving our lives either aesthetically or in traditional medicine, and research into their biosynthesis continues to develop, as demand for their extracts outweighs the current sustainable growth of the plants that produce them.

In my graduate studies over the next few years, I hope to elucidate how the glandular trichomes of Cannabis sativa produce their highly sought after oils, which are extremely rich in the cannabinoids that have defined the place of this plant in our culture over the past several millennia. Because Cannabis produces so many of these trichomes on its flowers and leaves, it provides a fantastic model for studying glandular trichome development and the biochemical processes that underlie the production of its multi-purpose oil. Due in part to strict government regulation worldwide over the past century, botanical and medical research into C. sativa trichomes and their oils has lagged behind. Despite the lack of government regulation in similar plants, the major processes behind glandular trichome development is also poorly understood in peppermint, lavender, or any of the species with similar trichomes. Using Cannabis as a model organism of study, my findings will provide insight into not just Cannabis, but all culturally and industrially-relevant species that produce these prized essential oils.