Uncovering pathways toward engineering pest resistance

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Robert Last (view larger image)

Michigan State University (MSU) scientists are examining the biochemistry of plants in research that could lead to advancements in the production of plants that are less susceptible to insect pests.

“Plants are master biochemists,” said Robert Last, MSU Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Plant Biology, and director of the lab where this research is being conducted. “They are great at making metabolites that protect the plants from the environment. Humans are beneficiaries because some of these products are potent medicines or make our foods more tasty and nutritious.”

In Last’s lab, postdoctoral scholar Pengxiang Fan and undergraduate biochemistry and molecular biology student Abigail Miller were able to reconstruct the pathway of chemical processes that a tomato plant uses to create useful compounds. The particular compounds they studied, called acyl sugars, are made in both the garden variety and wild relatives of tomato plants. The researchers examined how a single cell in the tip of tiny hairs on these plants ─ called trichomes ─ are able to create products that protect them from being eaten by insects.

“These cells are little self-contained factories,” Last, MSU AgBioResearch scientist, said. “Understanding this pathway could also allow us to come up with strategies to make these kind of useful compounds in microorganisms or in other plants that don’t normally make them.”

For the full story, please visit MSU Today.

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