Oilseed Functional Genomics and Metabolic Engineering
Oilseed crops such as soybean can serve as platforms for the sustainable production of fatty acids for human and livestock nutrition, bio-based fuels, and industrial chemicals. Functional genomic studies in my lab are aimed understanding the synthesis and metabolism of high-value fatty acids, such as the conjugated fatty acid eleostearic acid. We are attempting to identify genes from non-agronomic species that can be used to generate novel vegetable oils in soybean and the emerging oilseed camelina.
Crop Nutritional Biofortification
Crop nutritional biofortification actively involved in understanding the regulation of flux in the plastid isoprenoid pathway in order to enhance the content of vitamin E antioxidants and provitamin A in crop plants. One of our current areas of research is the development of provitamin A-rich cassava to meet the nutritional demands of populations in sub-Saharan Africa (http://www.biocassavaplus.org).
Sphingolipids are major components of the plasma membrane and tonoplasts of plant cells and contribute to the ability of plants to respond to biotic and abiotic stresses. We are attempting to understand the synthesis and function of sphingolipids in Arabidopsis in order to produce higher yielding crops with improved stress tolerance. Recent publications from my lab have highlighted the importance of sphingolipids in pollen and endomembrane development. We have also shown that small modifications of sphingolipid structure in planta can result in enhanced production of sphingolipids with aberrant fatty acid chain lengths, which provides insights into the regulation of the biosynthesis of these essential lipids in plants.
Generation of short- and medium-chain fatty acids and novel biofuel products (aromatic hydrocarbons) in algae and plants to meet fuel standards (e.g. JP8) and to manipulate metabolic flux channeling to increase the yields of biofuel products. Understanding the regulation of triacylglycerol (TAG) biosynthesis pathway and role of lipid beta-oxidation in oil accumulation and catabolism during shifts of algal growth between nitrogen deplete and replete conditions in Chlamydomonas.