May 15, 2018

Matthew Bergman wins best oral presentation at the CSB Research Day conference at the University of Toronto

PhD student Matthew Bergman (pictured above) received the Best Oral Presentation award at the 4th Annual CSB (Cellular & Systems Biology) Research Day, along with fellow PhD student Ahmed Hasan from Rob Ness' lab (watch out for the Ness lab, those guys are nothing but trouble.)

The title of Matthew's talk was "Elucidation of essential oil biosynthesis in rose scented geranium (Pelargonium sp.)", while Ahmed's presentation bore the title "Recombination rate variation in the model alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii". Both talks featured original research, lucidly explained, and were well received by the students and faculty in attendance.

The CSB Research Day is a chance for graduate students to showcase their work to the University of Toronto community. The one day conference featuring student talks and posters was held May 4 at the Ramsey Wright building on the St. George campus in downtown Toronto.

The abstract book featured this lovely collage of model organisms. Arabidopsis and Drosophila are right in the middle where they belong, but I don't see Chlamy in there. Prof. Ness, will this slight go unchallenged?

Congratulations to Matthew and Ahmed for their outstanding presentations, and a huge thanks to Eiji Nambara, Francis Lee, Genna Zunde, and the rest of the organizing committee for their hard work putting this conference together.

April 13, 2018

Best ROP poster prize awarded to Lucy Chen of the Phillips lab

Undergraduate Hsin-Yu "Lucy" Chen was awarded the best poster prize last April 5 at the UTM undergaduate poster session. Along with several other undergraduates, including Alex Chang, Ekaterina "Kate" Kibkalo, Lana Sobh, Ibadat Bajwa, and Haniya Adnan, Lucy represented the Phillips lab by presenting original research.

Lucy began as a volunteer in the lab and took on an independent project last January. After a summer hiatus for travel, she will return to the Phillips lab this fall to continue work on this project as an undergraduate thesis student.

Her work deals with the origin of pyruvate in the chloroplasts of higher plants. Long a metabolic mystery, pyruvate needed in chloroplasts is thought to derive from phosphoenolpyruvate in the cytosol due to two steps of glycolysis that are downregulated in chloroplasts (glycolysis is active both in plastids and in the cytosol of most plant cells and supplies pyruvate when the pathway is fully functional). This downregulation in photosynthetic plastids (chloroplasts) is thought to be an adaptation which avoids conflicts over common substrates between some reactions of the Calvin-Benson cycle and these downregulated steps of glycolysis. But since plastids still need large quantities of pyruvate as a starting point for several biosynthetic pathways, it is thought to be imported from the cytosol as phosphoenolpyruvate. We asked what would happen if we restored these potentially conflictive steps to gain some insight into where these pyruvate equivalents really come from and why nature chose this roundabout pathway of pyruvate trafficking during the course of evolution. Can plants with fully functional glycolytic pathways in photosynthetic tissue still grow, and if so what do their isoprenoid and lipid profiles look like (both require pyruvate for their synthesis)? This issue has been partially addressed by a German group at the University of Cologne several years ago (Prabhakar et al 2010 Plant Cell) but the larger issues of carbon flux and impact on plastid-specific metabolism were never fully answered. Lucy's work provides us with the genetic resources to conduct whole plant labeling experiments on transgenic lines modified to reveal the details of pyruvate traffic in the plant cell. The next experiments should be highly revealing. A hearty congratulations to Lucy for her well deserved award. May there be many more!

April 5, 2018

Undergraduate research presentations today on the UTM campus

Undergraduate research from the Phillips lab will be presented today as part of two separate events:

The Biology Research Opportunity Poster Day, and

The UTM Bio 40th Annual Biology Symposium

Undergraduate student Ibadat Bajwa will give an oral summary of his research project in my lab. His talk is titled "Untargeted metabolomics analysis of isotopically labeled Arabidopsis thaliana using chemical ionization mass spectrometry" Congratulations to Ibadat for completing a successful undergraduate research project!

The following students will also present their independent research projects during the ROP poster session:

Haniya Adnan
Alex Chang
Ekaterina Kibkalo
Lucy Chen
Lana Sobh

Thanks to all the lab members for turning out in support of our undergraduates and also to Stephanie do Rego of UTM-Bio for organizing the event.

March 9, 2018

Our paper "Nerolidol production in agroinfiltrated tobacco: Impact of protein stability and membrane targeting of strawberry (Fragraria ananassa) NEROLIDOL SYNTHASE1" published in Plant Science

Paola Andrade, David Manzano, Karla Ramirez-Estrada, Daniel Caudepon,
Montserrat Arro, Albert Ferrer, Michael A. Phillips⁎

Plant Science 267 (2018) 112-123

Here is a link to the PDF

In this paper, Paola generated a number of transformation constructs for tobacco agroinfiltration in which the strawberry nerolidol synthase gene was fused to various targeting peptides for expression at the endoplasmic reticulum or in the cytosol. Using a quantitative volatile analysis technique, which we validate in this paper, we assess the effects of subcellular localization of a terpene synthase on sesquiterpene production. The upshot: the endoplasmic reticulum is a slightly better environment for access to the high demand substrate farnesyl diphosphate, but nothing really beats a highly stable and soluble recombinant protein. We achieved better results (nerolidol production in infiltrated tobacco leaf tissue) but simply fusing nerolidol synthase to a highly soluble partner like GFP.

Congratulations to Paola on her publication and best of luck to her at the state biotechnology laboratory at the Institute for Agricultural Research (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias) in La Platina, Chile. May there be many more.

September 11, 2017

Back to school: End of summer group photo

A group photo of the summer students working in my lab. From left to right: Ibadat Bajwa, Matthew Bergman, Alex Chang, Michael Phillips, Ekaterina Kibkalo, Riya Bali, and Haniya Adnan.

Thanks to everyone for their hard work and dedication to basic plant research this summer. Now it's back to school, but the research continues.

SmartiGras 2017: A well attended student conference in the summertime

On Aug 16, undergraduate students Ibadat Bajwa and Haniya Adnan presented their summer research at the SmartiGras undergraduate research conference. Haniya presented our new project on coriander volatile analysis and transcriptomics and Ibadat explained his project on untargeted metabolite analysis in heat and light stressed Arabidopsis plants. Good job to Ibadat and Haniya for representing the Phillips lab at this UTM sponsored event.

August 16, 2017

ROP position available in auxin biosynthesis in primitive plants

An ROP research position is currently available in my lab for a motivated undergraduate UTM student interested in plant metabolism. This project deals with the origin of auxin biosynthesis in land plants. To study this, we are looking at the Charophyte Chara vulgaris, the modern day descendant of the earliest known line which gave rise to land plants. As a Charophyte algae, Chara is an aquatic primitive plant, and there is some controversy as to how it makes auxin phytohormones. It is also unclear as to whether land plants acquired this ability from Charophytes or evolved this ability independently later on during plant evolution.

For these reasons, Chara is a useful system to study this question. In general, the origin of phytohormones in plants is a fundamental area of plant biology research, and this project holds great potential for producing significant discoveries.

What this project will involve for students: you will learn cultivation techniques for maintaining aquatic plants, molecular techniques for measuring transcript abundance by quantitative PCR, and organic extraction techniques for preparing samples for analysis. This is a student project focused on benchwork, but you must also be good at record keeping, be a detail oriented person, and have good communication skills in order to effectively present experimental data at lab meeting and conferences.

Interested students should contact me at

Starting dates: This project is scheduled to begin in the winter 2018 semester. Alternatively, if you still have space in your schedule, you can also begin this fall.

Chara vulgaris