MSU Foundation Professor; Director, Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University
Research: Biosynthesis of lipids in photosynthetic membranes, lipid trafficking phenomena involving chloroplasts, engineering of crops and algae for biodiesel production.
Lipid Assembly, Remodeling, and Transport to Build and Protect the Photosynthetic Membrane
Photosynthesis sustains most life forms on earth providing food, feed, fuels, organic chemicals, and the oxygen in the atmosphere. In plants and algae, the photosynthetic membrane inside chloroplasts mediates the conversion of light into chemical energy. Specific polar lipids consisting of fatty acyl groups attached to glycerol with a polar head group are key components of the photosynthetic membrane. Fatty acid biosynthesis occurs in the chloroplasts, and polar lipids destined for the photosynthetic membrane are assembled at both chloroplast envelope membranes and the endoplasmic reticulum. Lipid precursors have to be shuttled between these different membranes and ultimately delivered to the photosynthetic membrane. As sessile plants inevitably come under stress in a dynamic environment, the photosynthetic membrane has to adjust its lipid composition and damaged lipids have to be repaired.
The Benning lab studies the underlying lipid assembly and remodeling processes including lipid and fatty acid transport, and acyl exchange on polar lipids during development and in response to adverse conditions. Genetic, molecular, biochemical, and cell biological approaches have provided a better understanding of the proteins involved. Understanding their roles in fatty acyl exchange, and fatty acid and lipid transport has provided us with novel insights into the dynamic complexity of plant lipid metabolism.
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