WSU Regents Professor
Charlotte Y. Martin Distinguished Professor
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Plant Sciences
Ph.D. 1978, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Lipids are critically important for proper plant growth and development. Highly unsaturated lipid molecules constitute about half of the hydrophobic membranes that delineate the compartments of plant cells, and are also major components of the light harvesting membranes of chloroplasts. In addition, lipid oils are a major form of carbon storage in seeds, providing nutrition for each succeeding generation. Oils from seeds are important food sources for people and have many commercial applications.
Research in my laboratory encompasses diverse projects that investigate biosynthesis and function of membrane and seed-storage lipids in plants using Arabidopsis as a model. We isolate and characterize genes that control the elongation, desaturation, or other modification of lipids and fatty acids. Such genes have been used to produce transgenic plants with altered membrane compositions or improved vegetable oils. We also focus on the roles of membrane lipids in the cell biology and physiology of plants using a large number of mutants with alterations in the lipid composition of their membranes. One line of research explores the role of fatty acids and lipids in the chilling resistance of plants. Another research interest grew from our isolation of jasmonate-deficient and jasmonate-responsive mutants of Arabidopsis, leading to discovery of the role of jasmonate in pollen development, insect defense, and non-host resistance to fungal pathogens. These discoveries have wide implications for plant biology in areas ranging from hybrid breeding to crop protection.