It has been estimated that the world population will increase by 2.2 billion over the next three decades and a significant improvement in crop yields would help meet the need for more food. Engineering plants such that more sugar is allocated towards edible organs such as fruits is one way to improve crop yields. Many of the genes that are being targeted in these plant engineering efforts are sugar transporters. This project focuses on the SWEET family of plant transporters, which are important for the distribution of sugar to various plant tissues. The overall goal of this project is to characterize SWEET sugar transporters and ultimately to use the information to engineer plants with better yields. At the educational level, this project will develop activities to bridge the gap between plant biology and engineering for students at the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. This project will also enhance the participation of underrepresented minorities in engineering through direct involvement in the proposed research.
The production of sugars in leaves and their mobilization to roots and reproductive organs is a significant determinant of crop yields. Some of the most critical genes in this process are sugar transporters, the proteins embedded in membranes that enable the uptake or release of sugar from cells or subcellular compartments. Despite their recognized importance, transporters in general, and sugar transporters in particular, remain notoriously difficult to study. Conventional approaches to characterize transporters are too laborious and time-consuming for widespread adoption. The research objectives of this proposal are to use biomolecular sensors to determine the substrate specificity of members of the SWEET family of sugar transporters, and to formulate mechanistic models of substrate competition for SWEETs. These models will quantitatively represent biological molecules and their mechanisms of interaction at a physicochemical level?key missing wirings between the metabolome and the proteome.
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.