The research in the Xu laboratory focuses on plant and microalgal lipid metabolism. By applying state-of-the-art approaches in genetics, biochemistry, cellular biology, synthetic biology and biotechnology, we aim to address both fundamental and applied questions in the field. The major research objectives in our research group are to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying acyl lipid assembly (e.g. triacylglycerols/oils, galactolipids/photosynthetic membrane lipids, phospholipids/membrane lipids) in photosynthetic organisms and to design lipid biosynthetic pathways to improve agriculture production and produce value-added oils for food, feed, fuel, and materials applications.
Acyl lipid assembly: Acyl lipids (i.e. lipids derived from fatty acids) are the most abundant lipids in photosynthetic organisms and have essential roles in cells, which include forming membranes, storing energy, and signaling. Photosynthetic organisms are exposed to environmental challenges, and acyl lipid remodeling plays an important role in plant adaption to adverse conditions (e.g. abiotic and biotic stresses). We are interested in identifying and characterizing players and regulators in acyl lipid assembly using an array of approaches ranging from genetics, omics, biochemistry, and cell biology to modeling in order to better understand this process.
Lipid trafficking and channeling: Plant lipid biosynthesis is highly compartmented and involves close coordination of multiple pathways in the ER and chloroplasts and an intense trafficking of lipids between them. Moreover, lipid players may form local interactomes to facilitate substrate channeling. We are exploring the mechanisms by which lipids move across the chloroplast envelope membranes and by which they are transported within the local interactomes.
Lipid synthetic biology and biotechnology: Lipids are important agricultural commodities with broad applications in food, feed, fuel and oleochemical industries. We are interested in designing plants, microalgae, and microorganisms for the production of value-added lipids. Using synthetic biology approaches, we are engineering lipid biosynthetic enzymes and pathways for the synthesis of high-value products.