Plant metabolites are vital to global ecosystems and economies. Ecologically, they sustain food chains, mediate interspecific interactions, and shape co-evolutionary relationships. Economically, humans have harnessed plant chemistry for food, medicine, pesticides, biofuels and other industrial or cultural purposes. In Canada, despite unsurpassed boreal and arctic biodiversity, distinct southern ecosystems and rich Indigenous and settler cultural diversity, our native plants remain surprisingly unexplored and underdeveloped for societal benefit. At the same time, Canadians consume a myriad of plant-based foods and natural health products (NHP), some with long histories of use, for which their chemistry, pharmacology or potential efficacy and risk are poorly studied.
To address these gaps, the Harris lab investigates the diversity and functional properties of plant chemicals and their potential impacts on the health of humans, other organisms, and the plant. We apply a “benchtop to community practice” approach that includes laboratory-, field-, literature-, and community-based research with basic, applied, and translational components.
With a unifying scientific focus on linking plant chemistry to bioactivity (therapeutic potential and toxicity), we study some of Canada’s most important medicinal and food plants and collaborate with different stakeholders to help guide and translate our research:
- clinicians, regulators and community groups to support knowledge transfer and the safe and effective use of medicinal plants (including cannabis)
- Indigenous communities to improve food security and diabetes care
- industry to develop and optimize new processes, products, and analytical methods