Plants produce most of the biomass on earth, provide directly or indirectly all food for humans and increasingly will become the source of sustainable biomaterials that replace non-renewable resources. MSU has one of the largest groups of plant biochemists in North America, most of whom are affiliated with the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Department of Plant Biology or the DOE Plant Research Laboratory. According to "The Web of Science Citation Index", MSU researchers have published more papers in the areas of plant biochemistry and metabolism than any other university in the US.
Plant biochemists at MSU are developing new ways to produce renewable resources as replacements for fossil fuels and are devising strategies for improving the nutritional quality of foods to improve the health of humans around the world. They are also working on novel and environmentally safe approaches for protecting plants from pathogens and insects as well as climatic stresses. As such MSU plant biochemists provide the creativity and technology to solve some of the most challenging problems humankind is facing in the future: sustainability of our way of life, feeding an increasing world population, and maintaining a safe environment. To meet these challenges, plant biochemists use cutting edge genomics technologies, genetic approaches, metabolite analysis, metabolic flux analysis, enzyme analysis, and structural analysis of proteins. This range of approaches provides for a rich training environment for students and postdoctoral researchers. Examples of MSU's exciting research in plant biochemistry, include:
- Lipids and related molecules play a large number of critical physiological roles in plants, and are nutritionally important for the animals that consume them. There is a very strong presence on campus of plant biochemists that study metabolism of structurally diverse lipids, including polar membrane lipids and neutral seed storage lipids, vitamins such as carotenoids (vitamin A) and tocopherols, (vitamin E), and lipid-derived signaling compounds such as jasmonates.
- Plants are master carbohydrate chemists, creating an array of unique structural and storage forms. MSU plant biochemists perform cutting-edge research on the regulation of synthesis and transport of primary carbohydrate metabolites and on complex carbohydrate biosynthesis and partitioning, particularly of the cell wall and starch.
- Although we tend to think of amino acids primarily as the building blocks of proteins, plants utilize these 'primary' metabolites as precursors for synthesis of a large number of structurally and functionally diverse 'secondary' metabolites. As a result, some of these pathways are highly active in tissues that synthesize structural lignins, specialized cells that manufacture and store defensive secondary metabolites, or have been induced to rapidly make secondary metabolites in response to stresses. Plant biochemists at MSU study the regulation and transport of amino acids for protein synthesis and as precursors to secondary metabolism.
- MSU plant biochemists conduct leading research on the regulation of metabolic processes by environmental factors such as cold temperatures, phosphate deprivation, insect attack or attack by fungal and bacterial pathogens.
- Despite compelling drawings of metabolic pathways in textbooks and research articles, we know very little about the dynamics of metabolic flux, and crosstalk between seemingly unrelated pathways. MSU plant biochemists conduct innovative research in mapping metabolic networks and understanding flux. These combined with large-scale functional genomics projects have established MSU as a center for excellence in metabolic systems biology and metabolic engineering.
- Sunlight is of particular importance to plants providing the energy for photosynthesis and as environmental cue for the regulation of plant development. Plant biochemists at MSU are studying the role of light in plant development, in the biogenesis of chloroplasts, and in signaling between the chloroplast and the nucleus.