WEIZMANN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE (WI)
The main interest of our lab is in the regulation of plant metabolic pathways, in particularly those associated with specialized metabolism and its coordination with developmental and stress response programs.
The lab could be divided to 4 different expertise ‘clusters’ that form a unique, non-conventional scientific environment resulting in a tight day to day interaction among group members.
One such expertise cluster is composed of trained organic and analytical chemists that employ cutting-edge analytical instruments largely based on mass spectrometry for metabolomics analysis. The metabolomics infrastructure in the lab also includes lipidomics analysis in which hundreds of diverse lipid species could be monitored in a single cell type or tissue. We have also incorporated a technology termed Metabolite Imaging (MSI) to our analytical toolbox that allows high-resolution spatial analysis of metabolites. The entire metabolomics pipeline developed throughout the years in the lab is continuously improved by new computational tools. A major effort is devoted to increasing the capacity for metabolite identification which is a key issue in today’s metabolomics assays. To this end, we have constructed a unique mass spectral library of nearly 10000 diverse plant specialized metabolites using reference compounds purified from nearly 2000 different plant species.
A different expertise cluster in lab is represented by plant biologists that use a diverse set of tools to unravel novel mechanisms by which plants produce specialized metabolites and control their biosynthesis in time and space. Through a combination of genetics, physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology we study different pathways of specialized metabolism, the interface between primary and specialized metabolism as well as the metabolic network as a whole. Various modes of regulatory mechanisms controlling metabolic pathways involving transcriptional factors, microRNAs and riboswitches are studied in the lab. We investigate a diverse set of metabolic pathways most if not all of them both during development as well as under biotic and abiotic tress conditions. In the past years the lab has ‘gone underground’ as we have been investigating the chemical interface between roots and organisms in the surrounding Rhizosphere space.
Having computational and bioinformatics expertise in a biology lab is a key requirement. A computational biology expertise cluster is devoted to processing and extracting new biological knowledge through ‘in silico’ analysis of the immense amount of data produced daily by the lab. Members of this cluster work on developing a ‘toolbox’ for processing metabolomics data including methods for enhancing the capability of metabolite identification. Other cluster members work on the difficult task of integrating information derived from multi- ‘omics’ experiments including transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and small-RNA profiling. In addition, we have been constructing models of plant metabolic networks and currently continue with generating such models for specific plant organs and tissues to unravel the metabolic cross talk between plant parts. The metabolic modelling approach is further coupled to the analysis of ‘metabolic flux’ which provides quantitative information regarding the flow of intermediates in the metabolic network.
The sessile nature of plants dictates a constant interaction with the environment; plant produced metabolites are one of the key mediators of these numerous interactions with bacteria, fungi and herbivores. The fourth expertise cluster in the lab and the most recently established one includes scientists with knowledge in microbiology. We have been investigting the underground world of plants with respect to the chemical communication between roots produced and secreted specialized metabolites and their impact on microbiome composition. To allow such multi-organismal interaction study we have developed several experimental platforms (in soil as well as hydroponics) including a microfluidic-based system allowing kinetic studies of root-bacteria interaction with high-resolution microscopy. In recent years this expertise cluster has been expanded to scientists having plant – fungi and plant – insect herbivory backgrounds.