Plant Systems Biology

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Jenny Mortimer

Director of Plant Systems Biology

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Nick Downs

Research Assistant

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Yu Gao

Post Doctoral Researcher

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Yuan Zhang

Post Doctoral Researcher

In the future, the range of bioproducts produced from plant biomass will be immense. The starting material, the polysaccharides and lignin of the plant cell wall, are complex. The goal of our lab is to understand polysaccharide biosynthesis, and use this knowledge to deliver optimized biomass for the bioeconomy. Our work focuses on sorghum (a biomass crop in the US), with some work in switchgrass, poplar and Arabidopsis (a model plant, which we use for initial experiments). We use a combination of systems and synthetic biology, protein functional characterization, and biophysics (solid state NMR) to explore polysaccharide biosynthesis at multiple scales. We are also interested in how alterations to the cell wall can affect plant-microbe-environment interactions.


  • 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).

Featured Publications

See Google Scholar profile for complete list.