Current Research
Mechanistic and Structural Basis for Plant Metabolic Evolution

Joseph Noel probes the adaptive changes that have occurred in plant-specialized metabolism as these enzyme networks emerged and evolved from their ancestral roots in primary metabolism at the dawn of terrestrial plants nearly 500 million years ago. His lab continues studies of sessile organisms such as plants, and more recently, microbes that form important relationships with non-motile plants. His research focuses on probing the molecular basis for how these sessile organisms, residing at the base of the global food chain, acquired and evolved specialized biosynthetic networks classified as secondary metabolic pathways, the output of which are regio- and stereo-chemically complex small molecule natural products including isoprenoids, flavonoids, polyketides and alkaloids. These chemicals of secondary metabolism, or more appropriately specialized metabolism, serve as chemical languages in ecosystems and impart a species-specific chemical “signature” on the parent organism in an ecologically specific context. Functionally, these natural chemicals often confer protective or symbiotic characteristics on their hosts allowing sessile organisms to survive and prosper in a multitude of challenging ecological niches. 

Grants from the National Institutes of Health and theNational Science Foundation provided partial support for these projects.

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