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Making plant cells work like miniature factories

Ames Laboratory researchers explore new frontier of metabolomics.

The biotech field of genomics gives scientists genetic roadmaps to link certain genes to diseases. The subsequent study of proteins produced by certain genes spawned the field of proteomics.

Now, a group of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University will use $1.02 million in DOE start-up funding to begin understanding the chemical processes that take place within the cells of plants. This new field, called metabolomics, could result in harnessing plants to efficiently produce biomass for energy production, chemicals and materials for industry or pharmaceuticals, and untold thousands of other uses.

"We know a lot about the genetic make-up of many plants, but we know very little about the chemical changes that take place within plant cells that eventually produce sugars, fibers or waxes," said Ed Yeung, program director of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Ames Lab and principal investigator on the project. "If we can understand metabolism, then ideally, all the materials a plant produces can be controlled."

The project, "Mass Spectrometric Imaging of Plant Metabolites," combines the analytical chemistry expertise of Ames Laboratory with the strength of ISU's Plant Sciences Institute. Yeung, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry at ISU, is internationally recognized for his work in developing separation and detection technologies, having won four R&D 100 awards.

Also working on the project are Sam Houk, an Ames Lab senior chemist who specializes in identifying trace elements using inductively couple plasma-mass spectrometry, and associate scientist and ISU chemistry professor Ethan Badman, who specializes in mass spectrometry and gas-phase methods of analysis for biological molecules. Rounding out the team is Basil Nikolau, Director of the Plant Sciences Institute's Center for Designer Crops and a sp
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Source:DOE/Ames Laboratory


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