Biochemist, BI Plant Science, Biology Department
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Bldg. 463, Room B-116
P.O. Box 5000
Upton, NY 11973-5000
Jörg Schwender earned his Ph.D. in 1999 at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, where he was working with H. K. Lichtenthaler on a novel biosynthetic pathway for plant isoprenoids. He then moved to the Plant Biology Department at Michigan State University where he worked as a Post-Doc with J. Ohlrogge and Y. Shachar-Hill on central metabolism in developing oil seeds and described the RubisCO Shunt, part of a carbon efficient biochemical transformation of sugars into storage lipids in seeds. In 2005 J. Schwender moved to Brookhaven National Laboratory and established an independent research program.
The Schwender group is interested in increasing the basic understanding of control and regulation of plant central metabolism, with focus on heterotrophic sink tissues like seeds. We use isotope labeling experiments, mathematical models and computer simulation to describe and analyze metabolism quantitatively. In particular we have extensive experience in steady-state stable isotope labeling to determine the flux distribution in central carbon metabolism. Cultures of developing embryos of Brassica napus and other brassicaceae species turned out to be excellent in vitro models to study seed development and storage synthesis. Growing in culture, embryos are labeled with a variety of 13C-labeled precursors and individual C-atoms are traced through the metabolic network by analyzing the label in metabolites and end products by GC/MS and NMR. Different nutritional conditions or genotypes can be analyzed and compared.
Plant biomass is of major economic value with increasing importance as renewable resource for the production of fuel and chemical feedstocks for the chemical industry. Rational engineering of plant metabolism is still hampered by the lack of understanding of the very complex biochemical machinery. This also applies to central metabolism, a conserved metabolic network that fuels all cellular activities with building blocks and energy cofactors. Given rapid advances in molecular genetics as well as in the omics technologies within the recent decades, one might expect that at least for central metabolism the parts list has been comprehensively discovered. However, new links in the plants’ central metabolism continue to be discovered today. Further, we are far from a good understanding of central metabolism with regards to the coordination of metabolic activities by multilayered and intertwined regulatory circuits. This limits our ability to exploit mechanisms of pathway regulation to maximize end product yield e.g. by use of synthetic biology approaches.