Plants are rooted in the ground and cannot run away from challenges - instead, they use complex metabolic networks to generate massive arrays of bioactive chemicals. With these they are able to colonize deserts, transform Earth's atmosphere, and live for thousands of years.
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Research in the Busta lab focuses on understanding the biochemistry and evolution of plant metabolic networks. We use informatics to unite classical analytical chemistry with emerging high-throughput DNA sequencing and analysis technologies and are currently focused on the following:
Virtually all land plants coat themselves with waxes to protect against dehydration, but some plants go further and coat themselves in massive amounts of wax - enough that it is visible at a glance as a white coating. Though diverse plant lineages contain species that allocate carbon in this way, we have very little understanding of the function of these large investments of energy.
Plants produce a massive array of chemicals to enhance their fitness. Relatively large efforts have been made to understand certain classes of these compounds, including phenolics, terpenoids, and alkaloids. By comparison, there has been almost no progress toward understanding fatty-acid derived natural products, even though more than 250 such compounds are already known, many of which have unique and potent bioactivites.
Natural waxes are a high value product used in diverse areas of industry. Essentially all the natural waxes used in the U.S. are imported from carnauba palm plantations. However, sorghum (milo) kernels are also coated in substantial amounts of wax and are emerging as a promising, domestic substitute for carnauba wax. I am currently investigating the following questions in this area. This project is supported by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation Fellowship PRFB IOS-1812037.