Our group’s research pursues some of the following questions with regards to carbon metabolism during wood
formation:(i) What are the spatial and temporal aspects impacting the regulation of carbon metabolism in wood?
(ii) What are some key components impacting carbon utilization for the production of the different biopolymers? (iii) How does
variation in these components impact wood properties for downstream processing requirements? Regulation of gene
expression is extremely informative of biological processes occurring within the cell – by observing global gene expression
in hundreds to thousands of xylem samples we can reconstruct the transcriptional programmes leading to (or responding
to) changes in carbon metabolism during wood formation. By integrating genome annotation and comparative genomics
(predicted enzymatic function of proteins and their localization within the cell) with gene expression and measured
metabolite levels in developing wood tissue we can reconstruct wood formation as a system, modeling the various
programmes and the dynamics of their activities. This also contributes to identifying key points for perturbation (natural via
allelic variation or modified via genetic modification) to drive alterations in wood properties towards a more desirable
To gain insight into the developmental process of xylogenesis, we also study and try to understand its evolution in plants. By comparing the gene catalogs of plants
representing key points in evolution of “woodiness”, as well as differential gene expression between their source (carbon fixing leaves) vs sink (xylem or wood
forming) tissues we can gain insight into which genes could control various processes leading to cellular patterning and secondary cell wall deposition in woody
plants such as trees. We have already pursued this in a comparative genomics study of a fern (currently a missing link inour understanding of the evolution of
woodiness),which provided insight on molecular innovations in flowering plants relating to xylem pattern formation. In the coming years, we will pursue additional
species of plants for these studies to model the evolution of genes and gene families contributing most strongly to xylogenesis.
Some specific projects currently ongoing include systems genetics modeling of xylogenesis (i.e. understanding how genetic variation leads to variation in
component traits, and how this affects complex traits such as wood properties), modeling regulation of carbon metabolism within different parts of a developing
fibre cell, as well as identifying roles of various molecular calibration mechanisms (such as the molecular clock) in carbon partitioning. We are also working towards
customized modification of gene expression in fiber cells alone, to see if carbon can be redirected towards a more desirable wood quality. Lastly, comparative
genomics studies of tree species with earlier diverging vascular plants are providing new avenues into wood and cell wall modification.