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Essential Enzyme, Fatty Acids, Viticulture, Enology

Posted by | October 17, 2007

Viticulture and Enology Program Bearing Fruit

We recently caught up with WSU viticulture and enology alumnus Julia Kock at Klipsun Vineyards on Red Mountain. Julia is the vineyard manager for Klipsun, which was recently rated by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the world’s 25 best vineyards. Our interview resulted in this short video, which you can see here:

We also had the pleasure of talking with Cameron Rushton, an undergrad studying viticulture and enology. Cameron’s ambition is to become a world-class wine maker. Intelligent and articulate, you can check out one of Washington’s future industry leaders here:

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Essential Enzyme Identified

A WSU research team, led by Norman Lewis of WSU’s Institute for Biological Chemistry, has identified the plant enzyme responsible for making phenylalanine, an amino acid that is an essential nutrient for humans. Phenylalanine is also an essential starting material for making flower pigments, substances that protect against UV irradiation from the sun, and wood.

Phenylalanine is converted into phenolic compounds that are the building blocks of many of the plant world’s most distinctive and important substances, including the pigments in flower petals and chemicals that protect leaves, stems and bark from ultraviolet radiation. Perhaps the best-known end product of phenols is lignin, the one that allows trees to stand upright.

Lewis said our reliance on plants to make phenylalanine means the reactions that produce it are as crucial to our survival as they are to that of plants.

“If these don’t exist, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

The research team has cloned six genes coding for different forms of the enzyme arogenate dehydratase (ADT), which converts a compound called arogenate into phenylalanine. Their work will appear in the Oct. 19 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Lewis said his group is now working to get a clearer picture of phenylalanine production and use within the plant.

Norman Lewis and students

Grant Fuels Fatty Acid Research

A team led by WSU’s John Browse, Regent’s Professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, has been awarded a four-year, $4.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant supports ongoing research using biochemical genomics to identify biosynthesis pathways that produce novel fatty acids in oilseeds.

Plants are natural producers of non-saturated fatty acids.

The types and respective quantities of fatty acids in vegetable oils have a direct impact on the fuel properties of biodiesel. The basic knowledge from this project is intended to enable the design of a new generation of specialty crops that will become the “green factories” of the future, providing for the production of industrial lubricants, solvent oils and biodiesel.

“Plant biologists continue to exploit genomics tools and sequence resources in new and innovative ways,” said James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. “It’s exciting to see research involving biologists and mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers, all working to address major unanswered questions in plant biology. These latest projects will also have a significant impact on how we train the next generation of plant scientists to carry out research at the cutting edge of the biological sciences.”

John Browse