Hi, I’m Whitney and I’m from Michigan. I received my bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Michigan State University in May of 2009. While I was at MSU I had the opportunity to work in a variety of different research labs. When I graduated I decided to take some time off and spent three months volunteering at a primate sanctuary in Cameroon. Upon returning, I took my current job as a technician in Dr. Chapple’s lab. I’ve enjoyed working in the lab so much that I’ve decided to begin pursuing my Masters degree here in the Fall 2010.
My current work focuses on a family of plant enzymes known as BAHD acyl transferases (BAHDs). It is a diverse family of enzymes which acylate secondary metabolites to form a wide range of compounds including volatile esters, modified anthocyanins and defense compounds. One member of this family, hydroxycinnamoyl transferase (HCT), is crucial for phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, the pathway which our lab focuses on. One of the goals of my project is to determine if HCT function is conserved across different plant species and especially in those that emerged earlier in evolutionary time.
In addition to my work on HCT I am also looking for novel BAHDs which could be used to make lignin modification molecules. Lignin is a structural component of plant cell walls which is difficult and costly to breakdown in the case of biofuel production. By incorporating molecules into the lignin polymer that contain easily hydrolysable bonds (lignin modification molecules) we can improve the efficiency of plant material breakdown.
When I’m not in the lab I like to be outdoors. I especially enjoy camping, hiking and rock climbing. I also like playing with my dog, Scruffy and relaxing with some yoga practice or a good book.