|The major question that Dr. Kliebenstein’s lab is studying is how and why plants make secondary metabolites. Secondary metabolites are plant compounds that provide the taste, flavor, color and medicinal activities that people associate with specific plants. However, their primary role appears to be helping the plant cope with its environment by attracting pollinators, repelling attackers and protecting the plant from sunlight.This broad activity means that plants have an amazing diversity of plant secondary metabolites, each potentially with its own function and evolutionary history. Dr. Kliebenstein’s lab is primarily using the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to study how its secondary metabolites control interactions with both insects and fungi. As a part of this they are using a mixture of functional genetics, quantitative genetics, plant biology, evolutionary biology and metabolite profiling to develop as in depth and broad a picture as possible. To broaden this picture, we are expanding into both tomato, Lycopersicon, and grapes, Vitis.
An additional avenue that Dr. Kliebenstein’s lab is pursuing is the fact that fungi also make secondary metabolites. For instance, Botrytis cinerea produces a suite of secondary metabolites whose main role appears to be killing plant cells. Thus by studying how Arabidopsis and Botrytis interact, we hope to analyze how organisms can combat each other through metabolism.