Science by the Pint

Our SbtP in September features…

Jing-Ke Weng & Chip Celenza
Genetically Modified Organisms: A Plant’s Perspective

Meet us Thursday, September 15th, 6:30-8:30pm at Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler Street, Somerville (directions)

Dr. Jing-Ke Weng is a member of the Whitehead Institute and an Assistant Professor of Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Weng lab has broad interests in understanding the 450 million year old origin and evolution of plant metabolism at enzyme, pathway, and systems levels, as well as how plants exploit discrete small molecules to interact with their surrounding biotic and abiotic environments. Their work in plant metabolic evolution impacts a fundamental question in biology – how do complex traits evolve in a Darwinian fashion? In addition, they actively seek opportunities to utilize plants as a unique model system to study human diseases, including metabolic syndromes and protein-misfolding diseases. In the long run, Jing-Ke also aims at elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying the “matrix effect” known from many traditional herbal remedies used for thousands of years. This basic scientific research motivated by curiosity will be key to address the societal challenges of tomorrow.

Dr. Chip Celenza is an Associate Professor of Biology at Boston University and director of BU’s Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The Celenza lab uses genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry to better understand how plants defend themselves against microbes and insects. While plants in general are quite capable of defending themselves against herbivores and pathogens, resistance can evolve in the attacker and thus present a threat to a particular plant species. Thus understanding how plant species evolve different mechanisms for defending themselves is of importance for sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change and an increasing population. As models for studying plant defense compound synthesis, the Celenza lab uses Arabidopsis thaliana and the related oilseed mustard Camelina sativa. In these species the amino acid tryptophan is used as a precursor for both anti-herbivory compounds and antimicrobial compounds. While both species make similar defense compounds, regulation of their biosynthesis in response to various biotic and abiotic stresses differs between the two species. Understanding the differences and similarities in the regulation of these defense compounds is of central interest to the Celenza laboratory and this understanding will give insight into how defense regulatory networks evolve in plants.

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