DynaMo Seminar: Jing-Ke Weng – University of Copenhagen

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DynaMo Seminar: Jing-Ke Weng

DynaMo Semiars are a series of public seminars hosted by DNRF Center DynaMo. We are pleased to announce our next seminar speaker:

Jing-Ke Weng

MIT/Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mechanistic Basis of Metabolic Evolution in Plants

Metabolic pathways are often considered “perfected” or at least predictable as substrates efficiently rearrange into products through the intervention of an optimized enzyme. Moreover, single catalytic steps link up, forming a myriad of metabolic circuits that are often modeled with a high degree of certainty. However, on closer examination, most enzymes are not precise with respect to their activity, using not just one substrate but often a variety and producing not just one product but a diversity. Hence, the metabolic systems assembled from enzymes possessing varying degrees of what can be termed catalytic promiscuity are not clear-cut and restrictive; rather, they may at times operate stochastically in the intracellular milieu. This “messiness” complicates our understanding of normal and aberrant cellular behavior, while paradoxically sowing the seeds for future advantageous metabolic adaptations for host organisms. In this talk, I will discuss the evolutionary implication of catalytic promiscuity widely observed in plant specilized metabolic systems, and how we can now exploit plant metabolism and chemidiversity for new catalyts, materials, and drugs.

Jing-Ke Weng is Member at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Assistant Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His lab has broad interests in understanding the origin and evolution of plant specialized metabolism at enzyme, pathway, and systems levels, as well as how plants exploit discrete small molecules to interact with their surrounding biotic and abiotic environments. Its work in plant metabolic evolution impacts a fundamental question in biology - how do complex traits evolve in a Darwinian fashion? In addition, his lab actively seeks opportunities to utilize plant as a unique model system to study human diseases, including metabolic syndromes and protein-misfolding diseases. In the long run, the Weng lab also aims at elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying the "matrix effect" known from many traditional herbal remedies used for thousands of years.