— Dapeng Li —
Li’s group focuses on how plants make use of complex blends of structurally diverse metabolites to adapt to the changing environment.
Plants are master synthetic chemists, capable of synthesizing a plethora of structurally diverse specialized metabolites. The plant kingdom contains somewhere on the order of one hundred thousand to one million chemically unique structures. Those structurally diverse specialized metabolites are central players in plants’ adaptations to their environments and in particular in their defense against enemies and recruitment of beneficial microbes.
Mass spectrometry (MS)-based untargeted metabolomics, which empowers the collection of vast amounts of structural information of biological samples, has now become a critical technique for the global chemical analysis of plant biology. Over the past years, their goal was to develop a working and useable synthesis of unbiased computational metabolomics, multi-omics techniques, molecular biology and natural history-driven approaches. The objective of this synthesis was to explore the holistic “metabolic space” that plants produce when attacked and digested by herbivores, and when they recruit fungal and bacterial microbiomes, so that metabolism-centered biological and ecological questions could be rigorously addressed.
Future research will primarily focus on elucidating plant specialized metabolite diversity and function at the global metabolome scale. The objectives are to continue developing next generation metabolomics techniques so as to systematically explore the structure, biosynthesis, regulation, evolution and physiological and ecological function of plant specialized metabolism to enlighten understanding of the multifaceted chemical adaptations that plants have evolved in their changing environments.