Evolution of Plant Secondary Metabolites

Kliebenstein Lab

Trichoplusia ni (Cabbage Looper) consuming Arabidopsis thaliana.


The laboratory studies two major questions using biochemical genomics.

The first question is largely related to an organisms biochemistry and focuses on how and why plants make secondary metabolites. Secondary metabolites are plant compounds that provide the taste, flavor, color and medicinal activities that people associate with specific plants. However, their primary role appears to be helping the plant cope with its environment by attracting pollinators, repelling attackers and protecting the plant from sunlight.

This broad range of activities means that plants have an amazing diversity of plant secondary metabolites, each potentially with its own function and evolutionary history. We are primarily using the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to study how its secondary metabolites control interactions with both insects and fungi. As a part of this we are using a mixture of functional genetics, quantitative genetics, plant biology, evolutionary biology and metabolite profiling to develop as in depth and broad a picture as possible.

The second major question is how and why organisms have genetic variation. To ask this question, we utilize the same secondary metabolites as phenotypes to help us study and develop methodology to understand the underpinnings of quantitative genetics and genomics. This has allowed us to develop novel network based algorithms to rapidly identify causal genes in both QTL mapping and genome wide association approaches that can be used in any species.

In addition to the model system Arabidopsis, we are developing a new model organism for quantitative biochemical genomics. This organism is the fungus, Botrytis cinerea that produces a suite of secondary metabolites whose main role is to allow the fungus to kill plant cells. This is allowing us to combine the network tools to look at how the genomes of both Arabidopsis and Botrytis interact andto analyze how organisms can combat each other through metabolism. We are also workingTo broaden this picture, by expanding into ricetomato, and grapes.

Department of Plant Sciences
Mail Stop 3
University of California
One Shields Avenue

Davis, CA 95616

To contact us:

Phone: 530-754-7775
Fax: 530-752-9569

UC Davis Plant Sciences