Labavitch Lab

Cell wall metabolism and plant development

The central goal of the research in my program is to understand the roles of cell wall metabolism in important aspects of plant development.  Specific foci are (1) the tissue softening that occurs in fruits as they ripen, (2) plant interactions with pathogens and insects, and (3) the "signaling" roles played by oligosaccharides generated when cell wall polysaccharides are digested by endogenous enzymes or enzymes introduced by "outsiders" (i.e., fungi, bacteria and insects).  In recent years our interest in developmental aspects of cell wall metabolism has led us into several projects that are related to the generation of biofuels from plant cell wall material; i.e., lignocellulose.

Cell wall metabolism in ripening fruits.
When fruits ripen, they become softer. However once they begin to soften they are easily damaged during shipping and storage and become more susceptible to pathogens.  An understanding of the factors that contribute to this ripening-associated softening should the biochemical factors that lead to softening should be useful in designing strategies for maintaining fruit quality.  (read more...)

Cell wall metabolism and plant-pathogen interactions.
The two most important contributors to losses of harvested fruits are uncontrolled softening (as discussed above) and spoilage caused by infection with pathogens.  Generally unripe fruits are relatively resistant to pathogen infection; however, when they ripen their pathogen susceptibility increases dramatically.  We have studied this ripening-related susceptibility increase by focusing on the interaction of the gray mold pathogen (Botrytis cinerea) and tomato fruit. (read more...

Cell wall metabolism and plant-insect interactions.
Many herbivorous insects, both larval and adult forms, use CWDPs to feed on plant tissues.  The lygus bug (Lygus hesperus), an insect that feeds on and damages many important crop plants (cotton, alfalfa, beans, tomatoes et al.), produces several salivary PGs that are extruded onto plant tissues during feeding.  This salivary PG is responsible for the flower damage that is caused when the lygus bug feeds on alfalfa florets and cotton flowers (Shackel et al., 2005). (read more...

Cell wall metabolism and the production of biofuels. 
In the last few years, increasing fuel costs and concerns about global warming have led to an explosion of interest in the generation of liquid fuels from plant-generated molecules.  In addition to efforts to make use of plant organs that accumulate lipid, there is also considerable interest in fermenting the sugars that are locked into plant polysaccharides (either stored starch or the variety of cell wall polymers) to produce ethanol and other portable, combustible liquid molecules.  (read more...)     


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