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Understanding metabolism for ecological and environmental purposes

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In the plant kingdom alone, there are an estimated 200,000 metabolic products, all of which are controlled by both genetic and environmental factors. However, we are far from understanding the detailed regulation of the expression of these metabolites, let alone the extent to which metabolic plasticity plays in growth, reproduction and survival in natural environments. The understanding of such processes is essential for a range of current ecological and environmental topics, such as how climate change may affect metabolism and the resulting shifts in survival and plant distribution, and how we can mitigate the effects of climate change by exploiting metabolism to enhance the rate of accumulation or quality of lipids for biofuel production. As a new member of the department I shall present data from my recent research on environmental metabolomics as well as new research on algal biofuels. Plant populations growing at the margin of their range, such as the Arctic-alpine Arabidopsis lyrata spp. petraea, may exhibit traits that indicate genetic differentiation and adaptation to their local abiotic environment. Such traits can be identified by acquiring ecological, genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic (8-plex iTRAQ) and metabolomic (GC-MS and DIMS ) data, especially in relation to varied temperatures among the sites. I have found that the survival of A. petraea, after exposure to sub-zero temperatures, is dependent on the duration of pre-shock cold acclimation time. This duration is population specific as some populations respond faster to cold acclimation than other populations. Such changes in the plant can be observed using these Affymetrix, iTRAQ and metabolomic datasets. I am now interested in understanding the detailed mechanistic and regulatory basis of lipid accumulation in algae. Lipid accumulation can be induced by nitrogen deprivation in the growth medium. This inducible process provides an excellent experimental basis for observing changes in the expression of gene transcripts, proteins and metabolic activities during lipid accumulation in algae. To this end, culture the model alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in media containing either low or normal concentrations of nitrogen. This enables us to measure the accumulation of the major classes of lipids (free fatty acids, phospholipids, glycolipids and triacylglycerides) and levels of expression of key mRNA transcripts for lipid metabolism over time.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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