Jenny Mortimer

Director of Plant Systems Biology

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 and arranged to form the wall are essential if we want to predictably engineer biomass to produce the fuels and materials that we will require in the future.


  • Nanoarchitecture of the cell wall using 13C labelling/multi-dimensional solid state NMR
  • Identifying and characterizing novel glycosyltransferases and nucleotide sugar transporters (primary and secondary cell wall, glycosylated sphingolipids)
  • Developing new methods for sorghum transformation and cell culture
  • Developing sorghum CAZy database
  • Bridging understanding between lab- and field-grown plants using ‘omics

Non-JBEI Projects

  • m-CAFEs SFA – using fabricated ecosystems to explore plant-microbe interactions across scales (led by Trent Northen and Adam Deutschbauer, LBNL)
  • Sorghum Metabolic Atlas – high-throughput subcellular localisation of sorghum proteins to enhance metabolic modelling (led by Sue Rhee, Carnegie Plants, Stanford).


See Google Scholar profile for complete list.


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