INVESTIGATING PLANT TERPENE METABOLISM FOR AGRICULTURAL AND BIOPRODUCT APPLICATIONS
Guest Speaker: Philipp Zerbe, Department of Plant Biology, UC Davis
Terpenoids form the largest and most diverse metabolite class in plants with essential functions in plant development and ecological interactions. Their chemical diversity also offers a rich source for bioproducts, including flavors, fragrances, pharmaceuticals and more. However, a broader industrial application of plant-derived terpenoids remains limited by the typically low abundance of these compounds in often only a single plant family or species. We integrate functional genomics, metabolomics and various protein biochemical approaches to discover terpenoid-biosynthetic genes and pathways in a range of medicinal, food and bioenergy plants. This work has shown that many plants employ modular ‘LEGO-like’ pathway networks, where distinct enzyme modules can function in different combinations along a common blueprint to form a vast diversity of terpenoid products. Following nature’s lead, we leverage this knowledge and gene resources to enable the development of combinatorial pathway engineering platforms for terpenoid bioproducts and strategies for improving terpenoid-mediated traits in food and bioenergy crops.