Just as organisations and companies execute decisions through a hierarchical governance structure, genes
involved in wood formation are similarly regulated by hierarchical networks of transcription factors influenced by
hormonal and developmental cues. My group is interested in the architecture of transcriptional networks underlying
secondary cell wall formation, their relationships with gene expression, chromatin structure and woody traits, and how we
may apply our knowledge of such networks in forest tree biotechnology.
We are currently using high-throughput protein-DNA interaction inference technology, coupled to chemical gene synthesis,
cell-free expression and multiplexed DNA binding assays, to infer transcriptional networks in Eucalyptus. In parallel, we are
exploring the biological functions of candidate transcription factors and promoters through functional genomics studies in
Arabidopsis, Populus and Eucalyptus, as well as studying the relationship between network structure and gene expression
using systems genetics approaches.
Recently, we mapped the accessible chromatin landscape of vascular tissues in Eucalyptus, revealing potentially functional noncoding elements in the genome
that are involved in transcriptional control. The future of applied tree biotechnology will employ synthetic biology approaches. We have developed 286 synthetic
secondary cell wall-related Eucalyptus transcription factor and promoter construct in partnership with the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. Most of
these synthetic sequences were designed as standardized Phytobricks and are compatible with the latest high-throughput DNA assembly approaches in synthetic
biology. I am also involved in initiatives involving the University of Cambridge to promote and disseminate open-source synthetic biology tools and hardware,
especially those based on safe cell-free expression approaches which are potential teaching tools in low-resource environments.