Biorenewables Laboratory

BRL 4th Yandeau-Nelson Group Research

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Yandeau-Nelson Research


Our team:

Dr. Tian Lin; Postdoc, Functional Genomics
Reid Claussen, Research Associate and Floor Manager, Coordinator of metabolite extraction team for large-scale experiments
Dr. Keting Chen; BCB Ph.D. Student, Computational Modeling of Metabolic Networks
Bri Vidrine; IG Ph.D. Candidate; Molecular Genetics and Stress Biology
Derek Loneman, Biochemistry Undergrad; Metabolite Profiling
Umnia Maghoub, Genetics Undergrad; Metabolite Profiling


I. Understanding the genetic network of plant cuticle lipids and their protective properties against environmental stresses: The aerial surfaces of land plants are protected by unique cuticle lipids, which provide a hydrophobic layer that is the primary line of defense against numerous biological and environmental stresses. We use the reproductive silks of maize as the model system to dissect the genetic and metabolic networks responsible for the synthesis of plant cuticle lipids, which are derived from fatty acid precursors. The broad goals of this project are to:

 1) Dissect the metabolic and gene networks that underlie the accumulation of surface lipids on developing maize silks
2) Understand the protective capacities these surface lipids confer against environmental stresses (e.g. temperature, drought)
 3) To determine the extent to which their accumulation patterns and actions are modulated by developmental and environmental cues

This collaborative project combines classical and quantitative genetic approaches with functional genomics, biochemical and metabolomic approaches.  This work aims to reveal unique mechanisms that produce the distinctive surface chemistries that plants utilize to gain protection from environmental stresses and lays a foundation for applied breeding to optimize seed production under conditions of increased biotic and abiotic stresses.  Based on the chemical similarity of surface lipid constituents to components of petroleum, this work also has potential applications in bioengineering these networks to produce advance biofuels in heterologous systems (e.g. algae).   

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation.


II. Harnessing natural metabolic pathways for the production of biorenewable compounds:  As a member of the ISU-based Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (, research in our group addresses how the fatty acid biosynthetic pathway can be utilized in genetically tractable microbes to produce precursors for the emerging biorenewable chemicals industry.  In a broader context, we are interested in the regulation of fatty acid synthesis, particularly in the “non-obvious” genetic determinants, and variants thereof, that determine fatty acid production. We are using forward-genetic approaches to understand the regulatory and enzymatic elements that regulate fatty acid metabolism within yeast.  In addition, we are altering fatty acid synthesis and related pathways in bacteria to produce chemically bi-functional fatty acids of specific chain lengths, which can have broad utilities as biorenewable polymers, surfactants, or lubricants.

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation.