Assistant Professor (joining August 2020)
T: TBA | mehran.dastmalchi [at] mcgill.ca (Email) | Raymond Building
BSc Biology, Botany (University of Toronto)
PhD Cell and Molecular Biology (Western University)
Our main research interest is in the lineage-specific chemistry of plants, or specialized metabolism. Plants have evolved a diverse library of chemical signals that play roles in their physiology, performance, and interactions, formulated for their ecological niche.
From the rich tapestry of plant specialized metabolism, we have plucked at a thread, a class of phenolic compounds, known as isoflavonoids. They are derived from the flavonoid backbone and known to accumulate in legumes (e.g., soybean). Isoflavonoids can function to attract and deter. They act as signaling molecules for the symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. Conversely, many isoflavonoid derivatives protect against pathogens in the soil or above ground. Isoflavonoids are also noted for their health benefits in the human diet.
Our lab focuses on isoflavonoid biosynthesis in forage legumes, including red clover, Trifolium pratense. Red clover provides versatile crop cover, green manure, and a protein-rich feedstock. These are all vital strategies for future-conscious farming. From a bioengineering perspective, red clover is an excellent candidate, with an annotated genome and tools for functional manipulation.
To study isoflavonoid biosynthesis in red clover and other relevant species, we employ a molecular genetics and biochemistry toolkit. Our methodology includes metabolic profiling (LC-MS), overlayed with a host of ‘omics data to triage gene candidates. Gene targets involved in the biosynthesis, regulation, and transport of isoflavonoids, are functionally characterized in planta, in vitro, and in heterologous hosts. We are particularly interested in the formation of metabolic complexes that guide carbon flux towards isoflavonoid production.
In the long run, intimate knowledge of isoflavonoid biosynthesis will allow metabolic engineering of forage legumes for robustness, better feedstock, or the production of nutraceuticals. In parallel, we are engineering heterologous hosts, such as yeast, to produce high-value metabolites. This synthetic biology approach can address growing concerns around chemical waste in agriculture, through plant-based green pesticides created by engineered microorganisms