This action funds an NSF National Plant Genome Initiative Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2020. The fellowship supports a research and training plan in a host laboratory for the Fellow who also presents a plan to broaden participation in biology. The title of the research and training plan for this fellowship to Dr. Joshua Trujillo is "Evolution of glucosinolate innovation". The host institution for the fellowship is Purdue University and the sponsoring scientists are Dr. Jennifer Wisecaver and Dr. Mark Beilstein.
Plants produce an immense collection of diverse, specialized molecules that help attract pollinators, protect plants from insects and diseases, and provide protection against other stress such as drought. Glucosinolates are one such group of plant specialized molecules, that are of great interest for agricultural, medicinal, and biotechnological purposes. Hundreds of glucosinolate chemical compounds have been identified, and these compounds exist in varying amounts in different species, suggesting that the genes responsible for making these glucosinolate compounds are also highly variable between species. Despite this known diversity, the vast majority, as of genes involved in glucosinolate biosynthesis have been characterized in one plant alone. This focus on a single species makes it impossible to understand what genes are responsible for making this diversity of glucosinolates and production of diverse specialized molecules in general. Comparing the genes responsible for glucosinolate biosynthesis across multiple species will greatly advance our understanding of how these specialized molecules are made, as well as the ability to manipulate, synthesize, and utilize these specialized molecules for human society. In addition, this fellowship will provide advanced postdoctoral training, mentoring of undergraduate students in academic research, and educational outreach to teach the general public about plant evolution and genomics.
The objective of the research project is to investigate the evolution of innovation in glucosinolate biosynthesis between several closely related Brassicaceae species. To address the need for comparative genomic and functional data, the glucosinolate biosynthesis pathway will be characterized in seven non-Arabidopsis Brassicaceae species through integration of comparative genomics, metabolomics, and molecular analyses. The central hypothesis of the project is that the diversity of glucosinolate structures produced across Brassicaceae species is a consequence of neofunctionalization of either lineage- (or even species-) specific members of gene families (such as methylthioalkylmalate synthases, cytochrome P450s, and 2-oxoacid-dependent dioxygenases) or regulatory elements of conserved gene homologs of these families. To evaluate this hypothesis, the project will consist of three components; gene coexpression and metabolomics networks to characterize and compare glucosinolate biosynthesis pathways in diverse Brassicaceae species. Reconstruction of glucosinolate biosynthesis gene evolution to identify evolutionary processes that have led to innovation in glucosinolate biosynthesis. Lastly, functional characterization of select genes responsible for glucosinolate pathway innovation. Biological samples will be archived in the Wisecaver laboratory, and data/code gathered or produced during the extent of the project will be made publicly available through NCBI databases.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.