Research in my lab focuses on using microbial eukaryotic model organisms as systems to study various aspects of lipid metabolism, including membrane lipid and fatty acid trafficking between organelles, the regulation of membrane lipid and triglyceride synthesis, and the regulation of lipid droplet assembly and morphology.
We are using the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii as a unicellular plant biochemical-genetic model to identify and characterize the structural and regulatory components controlling fatty acid synthesis, transport, desaturation, and storage. Chlamydomonas is an ideal organism with which to conduct these studies given it's long (>75 years) history as a genetic model organism, fully sequenced and well annotated genome, and the open and supportive algal research community on the UNL campus. This work has many implications for the production of commercially important, lipid-derived compounds from algae, e.g. hydrocarbons for fuel, novel fatty acids for chemical feedstocks, and antioxidant pigments for cosmetics and nutraceuticals.
Another set of projects makes use of the powerful genetic, genomic, and biochemical tools in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We are taking genomic and chemical genetic approaches to identify proteins that are involved in the trafficking of lyso-phospholipids from the plasma membrane to the endoplasmic reticulum, as well as other inter-organelle lipid transport phenomena. We also make use of the metabolic engineering resources in yeast to re-wire certain core lipid metabolic processes and study the effects of these alterations on membrane biogenesis and function. Our work on the genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology of lipid metabolism in yeast has direct implications for medically relevant research areas, such as inflammation, cell migration, cancer biology, and cardiovascular disease.