Jenny Mortimer

Director of Plant Systems Biology and Deputy VP of Feedstocks

Research Focus

Sugars are one of the fundamental building blocks of life. Whether glycosylating proteins or lipids, or as complex polysaccharides, they are essential to the health of the cell. However, unlike, DNA and protein, these complex sugar molecules are built without an apparent template. An enormous number of combinations are possible due to the different starting molecules (monosaccharides) and the myriad ways they can be linked together. We know that assembly is carefully controlled by the organism, since serious pathologies can result when this process goes wrong. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how this happens.

My research focus is to understand the mechanisms that drive glycan assembly. This includes making the substrates (the nucleotide sugars), transporting them to the correct compartment in the cell, and synthesizing the polysaccharides Questions about how these processes are regulated, as well as how the completed molecules are exported to the wall are essential if we want to engineer biomass to produce the fuels and materials that we will require in the future.


  • Developing new methods for sorghum transformation and cell culture
  • Developing new bioinformatics tools for sorghum researchers
  • Biochemically and biophysically characterizing the plant secondary cell wall
  • Bridging understanding between lab- and field-grown plants using ‘omics
  • Identifying and characterizing novel glycosyltransferases and nucleotide sugar transporters, especially those responsible for sorghum secondary cell wall synthesis
  • Engineering plant biomass with increased hexose content by manipulating mannan biosynthesis
  • Investigating the biosynthesis and function of glycosylated sphingolipids (GIPCs)

Non-JBEI Projects

  • Developing a high-throughput bioactivity platform (in collaboration with Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, Ben Brown, and Mina Bissell)
  • Design and prototyping of a replicated mesocosm system for bridging lab and field research (in collaboration with Gary Andersen, Mary Maxon, and Louise Glass)


See Google Scholar profile for complete list.


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