Research Projects

Metabolic Pathways
Metabolism is seeing a resurgence of interest as more researchers identify roles for metabolic pathways in various pathological conditions (cancer, aging, etc.). Our lab is generally interested in how metabolic pathways are involved in regulating the balance between growth and stress resistance in the cell. To better understand these rules, we are investigating two metabolic pathways.  We intend to use a combination of classic (molecular biology, genetics, etc.) and modern (metabolomics, genomics, etc.) approaches to understand these pathways.

  • Trehalose is an exceptionally stable disaccharide consisting of two glucose monomers.  Various organisms from all three domains of life are able to produce trehalose (though mammals cannot).  Trehalose is important for plant development, fungal pathogenesis, and also for certain desiccation-tolerant organisms to survive desiccation.  In yeast, disruption of trehalose metabolism results in carbon source utilization defects, failure to perform meiosis, and multiple stress sensitivities.  Despite studying this pathway for decades, we still do not have a model to explain the physiological role of this pathway that incorporates all of the observed phenotypes.  Our work, and the work of others, has shown that trehalose itself isn’t important for carbon source utilization, meiosis, or some stress conditions (in contrast, it is very important for surviving desiccation).  This suggests that the trehalose pathway has trehalose-independent mechanisms for regulating cellular physiology.
  • The electron transport chain (ETC) is a pathway well-known for both production of ATP and also an origin of apoptotic signaling.  Mutations in the ETC can cause a variety of human diseases including blindness, organ failure, anemia, and cancer.  It remains unclear how disruption of the ETC results in so many different disease phenotypes.  In yeast, the ETC is involved with regulating cellular starvation (this is sometimes called “chronological aging”).  However, how this metabolic pathway regulates starvation is unclear, though it seems unlikely related to production of ATP.

Fermented Beverage Industry
Our lab is also interested in using our expertise in yeast biology and microbiology to do applied projects that benefit the fermented beverage industry (wine, beer, etc.).  These include identifying which microbes are present during wine production, and characterizing what those microbes are doing. Beyond the microbial species-level examination, we want to understand which genes and metabolic pathways are important for wine production.  We are also interested in trying to better understand how stuck/sluggish fermentations occur, and identifying ways to prevent them.  Finally, we are interested in studying Brettanomyces yeast species, and understanding their role in both sour beer production and wine spoilage. If you are interested in collaborating on an applied project that could benefit the fermented beverage industry, please contact Patrick Gibney (

If you’re interested in joining the lab, please see the “Research Opportunities” page for more details.

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