Scheme: Newton International Fellowships
Organisation: John Innes Centre
Dates: Jan 2012-Dec 2013
Summary: Our research work combines chemistry and biology in order to get a better understanding of the metabolism of starch. Starch is the main energy store in plants and highly abundant in cereals, therefore is the most common carbohydrate in human diet.
With World population projected to hit 9 billion by 2050, there is a need to double cereal grain production for food use in the same timeframe. Cereals like barley, our model of choice, are used also for animal feeds or as row materials for the production of many bioproducts, like biofuel. Clearly increasing starch production is a central goal, but progress is impeded by our lack of knowledge about the nature and control of starch metabolism in the cereal seed endosperm.
Our research approach is focused in the design and chemical synthesis of small molecules that specifically bind starch degrading enzymes. The grain seeds are germinated in the presence of these small molecules and the effect produced in the development of the seed is studied (measurement of length of root/shoots and the levels of different metabolites from the starch mobilization during the seed growth). These studies provide us with useful information about the role and importance of the target enzymes in the metabolism of starch. This information has commercial potential, for example, scope for either chemical or genetic intervention to address pre-harvest sprouting (cereal yield/food security), for improved seed storage (general agricultural applications) and for the arrest of root growth during malting (beer/whisky industry). And importantly, unlike classical genetic studies, our approach using chemical genetics is not species-specific and it does not involve the genetic modification of plants. Tools developed in barley will be immediately transferable to other cereals, such as rice and wheat, the major plant-derived food materials world-wide.