Dr. Yang Xu

Assistant Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Phone number: 
SSC 4453
SSC 4401

I received my master’s degree in Food Science from South China University of Technology, where I worked on oil chemistry and bio-catalysis for preparing functional food, specifically functional oils. After that, I moved to Alberta to pursue my PhD in Plant Science with Dr. Randall Weselake at the University of Alberta, where I expanded my research horizons and developed research interests in plant oil synthetic biology and biotechnology. My PhD research focused on engineering enhanced performance in plant lipid biosynthetic enzymes to improve oil accumulation. After completing my doctoral studies, I joined Dr. Guanqun Chen’s laboratory at the University of Alberta as a postdoctoral fellow, where I focused on oil metabolism in microalgae and plant unusual fatty acid biosynthesis. I later moved across the border and joined the laboratory of Dr. Christoph Benning at Michigan State University as a postdoctoral research associate. There, I extended my research focus to chloroplast membrane lipid assembly in photosynthetic organisms. I won the 2021 Carl Douglas Prize from the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists (CSPB/SCBV) in recognition of the contributions to plant biology by a postdoctoral fellow. My interdisciplinary training has shaped my research interest in both fundamental and applied research in the field of plant lipids. My new research group at the University of Guelph will focus on studying lipid metabolism in plants and microalgae, and developing synthetic biology and biotechnology strategies to produce designer oils that meet our growing demand in food, fuel and renewable materials.

Postdoctoral Research Associate – Michigan State University

Postdoctoral Fellow – University of Alberta

PhD – University of Alberta

MSc – South China University of Technology

BSc – Northwest A&F University

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.

  1. Xu Y, Pan X, Lu J, Wang J, Shan Q, Stout J, Chen G. Evolutionary and biochemical characterization of a Chromochloris zofingiensis MBOAT with wax synthase and DGAT activity. Journal of Experimental Botany. 2021, 72: 5584–5598. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erab236
  2. Xu Y, Caldo KMP, Singer S, Greer M, Mietkiewska E, Tian B, Dyer J, Stymne S, Smith M, Zhou XR, Qiu X, McKeon T, Weselake R, Chen G. Physaria fendleri and Ricinus communis LCAT-like phospholipases selectively cleave hydroxy acyl chains from phosphatidylcholine. The Plant Journal. 2021, 105: 182–196. DOI: 10.1111/tpj.15050
  3. Xu Y, Mietkiewska E, Shah S, Weselake RJ, Chen G. Punicic acid production in Brassica napus. Metabolic Engineering. 2020, 62: 20–29. DOI: 10.1016/j.ymben.2020.08.011
  4. Xu Y, Caldo KMP, Farlaz L, Jayawardhane K, Chen G. Kinetic improvement of an algal diacylglycerol acyltransferase 1 via fusion with an acyl-CoA binding protein. The Plant Journal. 2020, 102: 856–871. # Cover of the issue. DOI: 10.1111/tpj.14708
  5. Xu Y, Singer SD, Chen G. Improving oil production in plants and microalgae by engineering performance-enhanced diacylglycerol acyltransferase 1, Inform2020, 31, 20–23. DOI: 10.21748/inform.06.2020.20
  6.  Xu Y, Caldo KMP, Jayawardhane K, Ozga J, Weselake R, Chen G. A transferase interactome may facilitate channeling of polyunsaturated fatty acid moieties from phosphatidylcholine into triacylglycerol. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2019, 294:14838–14844. # Cover of the issue. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.AC119.010601
  7. Caldo KMP, Xu Y (Co-1st author), Farlaz L, Jayawardhane K, Chen G. Arabidopsis CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase 1 is phosphorylated and inhibited by sucrose nonfermenting 1–related protein kinase 1 (SnRK1). Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2019, 294: 15862–15874. # Recommended in F1000Prime. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.008047
  8. Xu Y, Caldo KMP, Mietkiewska E, Holic R, Ozga J, Chen G, Weselake RJ. Engineering Arabidopsis long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase 9 variants with enhanced enzyme activity. Biochemical Journal. 2019, 476 (1): 151–164. DOI: 10.1042/BCJ20180787
  9. Xu Y, Falarz L, Chen G. Characterization of type-2 diacylglycerol acyltransferases in the green microalga Chromochloris zofingiensis. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2019, 67(1): 291–298. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b05755
  10. Xu Y, Caldo KMP, Pal-Nath D, Petrie J, Ozga J, Lemieux MJ, Weselake RJ, Chen G. Properties and biotechnological applications of acyl-CoA:diacylglycerol acyltransferase and phospholipid:diacylglycerol acyltransferase from terrestrial plants and microalgae. Lipids. 2018, 53(7): 663–688. DOI: 10.1002/lipd.12081
  11. Xu Y, Holic R, Li D, Pan X, Mietkiewska E, Chen G, Ozga J, Weselake RJ. Substrate preferences of long-chain acyl-CoA synthetase and diacylglycerol acyltransferase contribute to enrichment of flax seed oil with α-linolenic acid. Biochemical Journal. 2018, 475(8):1473–1489. DOI: 10.1042/BCJ20170910
  12. Xu Y, Chen G, Greer M, Caldo KMP, Ramakrishnan G, Shah S, Wu L, Lemieux MJ, Ozga J, Weselake RJ. Multiple mechanisms contribute to increased neutral lipid accumulation in yeast producing recombinant variants of plant diacylglycerol acyltransferase 1. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2017, 292: 1781917831. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M117.811489

Graduate Student Opportunities:

We are actively recruiting motivated undergraduate and graduate (MSc and PhD) students and postdoctoral fellows. Please contact me (yangxu@uoguelph.ca) directly for more information.