Project 5

Localization and logistics of alkaloids biosynthesis in medicinal plants using single cell metabolomics and transcriptomics

Supervisors: Sarah O'Connor, Lorenzo Caputi, Department of Natural Product Biochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

Background: Plant alkaloids are complex and structurally diverse specialized metabolites that exhibit a wide array of bioactivities. Alkaloids perform many ecological functions, and also have many applications in pharmacology for the treatment of pain, cancer, dementia, and other diseases. The biosynthesis of plant-derived alkaloids involves complex chemistry and highly branched metabolic pathways. Metabolic intermediates and final products must be synthesized, translocated and stored in a highly organized fashion to avoid being hijacked by other enzymes. Thus, biosynthetic pathways often involve chemical reactions that take place in different cellular districts and different cell types within plant tissues.

Project Description: The aim of this PhD project is to track and correlate metabolites and transcripts in biosynthetically relevant tissues using cutting-edge techniques, such as live single-cell mass spectrometry and single-cell RNA sequencing. The goal is to identify in which cell types different alkaloid biosynthetic reactions take place, to map transport of the biosynthetic intermediates and final products, and to ultimately develop models for the role that localization plays in controlling in plant alkaloid metabolism.

Candidate profile: We are looking for a highly motivated candidate trained in at least two of these major areas: mass spectrometry, plant physiology and/or bioinformatics. Experience and good experimental skills in mass spectrometry are particularly advantageous. Knowledge about plant specialized metabolism is also desirable. A Master’s degree in Biology, Biochemistry or related disciplines is required for this position.

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