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Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777



Basil Nikolau, The Center for Metabolic Biology, (515) 294-9423,

Meg Gordon, Plant Sciences Institute Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-3945,

Dan Kuester, News Service, (515) 294-0704,

Iowa State Plant Sciences Institute research center changes name to reflect expanding research scope

AMES, Iowa--The Plant Sciences Institute has changed the name and expanded the research scope of one of its centers.

The newly named Center for Metabolic Biology "will extend its membership to include not only plant researchers but also those investigating metabolism in microbial systems," said Basil Nikolau, director of the center, W.M. Keck Metabolomics Laboratory director and professor in the department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology.

The center's goal is to conduct research leading to an understanding about small molecules and their natural biochemical syntheses. That understanding will help to make future crops more nourishing and those intended for feedstocks more suitable for making biofuels.

The Center for Metabolic Biology was formerly known as the Center for Designer Crops.

Metabolomic researchers try to find how organisms' genes organize and control the biological products they make. The metabolome illuminates the biochemical path these products travel to their eventual fate and illustrates what they do along the way.

"The expanded center will bring together researchers with common interests in deciphering metabolic systems," said Nikolau. "Through the investigation of microbial systems, we will now be able to take advantage of the nearly 1,500 microbial genomes that have been sequenced."

Widening the scope of the center is opportune because of the expanding body of genomics data. These data provide new avenues to address metabolic questions across the breadth of the biosphere.

"This is particularly evident in the biorenewables arena as solutions are being considered that are, at the core, metabolic questions in plant and microbial systems," said Nikolau.

The Center for Metabolic Biology is already reaping the benefits of its expanded research role. The Department of Energy has recently awarded Nikolau and three colleagues at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute funding for a three-year collaborative study that examines the metabolites of an energy-producing microbe.

The collaborators aim to work on the biochemical processes in one particular microbe that naturally produces methane gas-a potential energy source.

Additionally, the center's expansion will allow ISU scientists to pursue National Science Foundation funding for research that could generate biorenewable chemicals through the manipulation of plant and microbial systems.

The expansion will also provide support for anticipated new ISU faculty in the area of microbial fermentation/metabolism. With new faculty, the re-oriented center can serve as a bridge between the Plant Sciences Institute and the Office of Biorenewables Programs.

As more researchers become involved in the expanded center, there may also be more funding opportunities for new instrumentation in the W.M. Keck Metabolomics Research Laboratory. That's important, Nikolau said, because technologies have advanced considerably since the laboratory's inception.

The Center for Metabolic Biology facilitates, encourages and sponsors innovative and fundamental molecular research that will lead to a comprehensive understanding of metabolic networks and systems. The center's goal is to generate the fundamental understanding of metabolism that will provide the basis for designing novel pathways for biochemical constituents that improve the nutritional quality of agricultural products, and generate new biorenewable sources of industrial feedstocks.


Quick look

ISU's Center for Designer Crops has changed its name to Center for Metabolic Biology. This change reflects the center's expanding scope of research.