Leslie Gunatilaka

Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Environment

Profile photo for Leslie Gunatilaka


Discovery of small-molecule natural products from plants & associated microorganisms as potential drugs to treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases; development of alternate agricultural systems for sustainable utilization of natural resources.

The Natural Products Center engages in research to discover anti-cancer, anti-infective, and anti-inflammatory drugs using Sonoran Desert plants and their associated microorganisms. It also investigates natural product biosynthesis in selected microorganisms, looks at commercializing natural fibers, such as Hesperaloe for paper products, and works to develop alternate agriculture systems.

Many of the center’s projects also aim to improve the longevity of agriculture in Arizona, the Southwest, and semiarid lands throughout the world and to understand the complexity of arid land ecosystems.

The center uses a variety of cutting-edge equipment and technology for separating natural products, examining and clarifying the products, and conducting biological and microbiological work. This includes chromatography and spectroscopic equipment, flow cytometers, benchtop fermenters, and more.  


Medicinal Plants (PLS 480/580): Contribution of plants to traditional and modern medicines worldwide. Plant Biochemistry and Metabolic Engineering (PLS 448A/548A): to gain an understanding of how biochemical components in plants are synthesized.


  • Ph.D., 1974, Imperial College of Science & Technology, University of London, England
  • BS, 1968, University of Peradenia, Sri Lanka