Why “Cellular Metabolism and Engineering”?
The basic building block of life is the cell. Although metabolism is integrated between tissues and organs in an organism, metabolic pathways themselves typically exist and function within individual cells. Thus, in order to understand how metabolism truly functions in an organism, we must understand how it functions in individual cells, and in varying cell types within an organism and at the tissue level.
Engineering metabolism, either through modern transgenic or gene editing approaches typically included in Synthetic Biology-based efforts, or through traditional breeding and mutagenesis, is a goal that has received much attention in the last two decades due to problems with fuel and food shortages (see 9 Billion Problem page). For those efforts to be successful, we must understand not only how metabolism is structured but also how it is regulated and controlled. Again, that occurs at the cellular level. Thus, a major goal of the Gang lab is to understand metabolism is structured and regulated in individual cell types and how metabolism is connected between different cell types, either within an organism or between co-existing organisms.
We have long worked in the area of plant biochemistry/metabolism, as plants are ideal systems to work with to understand single-cell processes. But we now often work on other organisms as well, such studying cancer development and inflammation processes in mammalian systems, investigating the interaction between major insect pests and the microbes that infect them or that they vector to other eukaryotes, how marine microbes produce novel bioactive compounds, and how single-celled algae regulate metabolism such that we can use that information to design changes in bioenergy and bioproduct development efforts.
We are also interested in how metabolism is integrated within the whole physiology of the body and how it is regulated and controlled within organs, such as rhizomes or glandular trichomes in plants or haemolymph, guts and salivary glands of psyllids.
All of those efforts have two things in common: 1) they focus on metabolic processes and their regulation and 2) we use cutting/bleeding edge technologies in our efforts and those project areas are excellent realms to apply such approaches.
Some of our favorite organisms
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb with medicinal benefits. We are interested in related Ocimum species as well.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a major culinary spice and medicinal plant.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a major culinary spice (think curry) and medicinal plant.
Diviners sage (Salvia divinorum) is a medicinal plant that has psychoactive/hallucinogenic properties and its major active constituent, Salvinorin A, is being utilized to develop better treatments for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a major weedy grass worldwide. We study other rhizomatous weedy grasses as well.
Rice (Oryza sativa) is the second most important crop worldwide (number of people fed, value). We also work on the related weedy species red rice (Oryza longistaminata)
Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are a major food staple around the world, novel trait attributes make development of new bean cultivars an exciting area today
Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) has two major forms, hemp and marijuana (legal term still in the USA, although most now refer to the psychoactive versions of the species as psychoactive cannabis or simply cannabis now for many reasons). Hemp is now a legal commodity in the USA, while psychoactive cannabis (delta-9-THC levels over 0.3%) is still a Schedule C1 controlled substance.
Unicellular algae (e.g., Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Chlorella sorokiniana) are single-celled algae that are model organisms for bioenergy research.
Asian citrus psyllid (ACP, Diaphorina citri) is a major citrus pest that is spreading Huanglongbing (HLB, also called citrus greening disease) worldwide.
Potato/tomato psyllid (PoP, Bactericera cockerelli) is a pest of potatoes and tomato that is spreading zebra chip and vein greening diseases.
We are investigating metabolism in human breast cancer cells with our collaborator at the WSU Medical School, Weimin Li, and previously published work on human colon cancer metabolism with collaborators from WSU’s Chemistry Dept. and School of Molecular Biosciences.
We have investigated changes in protein and metabolite levels in various mouse tissues (brain, liver, heart, uterus, etc.)
We have worked for years with collaborators investigating metabolism of microbes, from fungi to bacteria.
Liberibacter species (“Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” and “Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum”) are the presumed causes of HLB and zebra chip disease.
Actinobacteria and Bacillus sp. from marine environments are a largely untapped resource for discovery of novel bioactive compounds.