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Craig Schenck

Craig Schenck

Assistant Professor
Department of Biochemistry

E-mail: caschenck at missouri dot edu
Web site: Schenck Lab Website
Office address: 214 Schweitzer Hall

To deal with relentless environmental pressure, plants produce an arsenal of structurally diverse defensive chemicals. Unlike taxonomically restricted specialized metabolites, primary metabolic pathways are highly conserved, ubiquitous, and produce essential metabolites, such as amino acids, which serve as precursors to specialized metabolites.

The expansion and alteration of primary metabolism has given rise to the evolution of structurally diverse plant specialized metabolites. However, the underlying mechanisms potentiating metabolic diversity and the connections between primary and specialized metabolism are not well known. These knowledge gaps create bottlenecks in synthetic biology platforms for production of high-value plant metabolites and breeding efforts aimed at increasing plant resilience. The Schenck Lab is interested in identifying novel plant metabolites in non-model species. Specialized metabolites enable plant-environment interactions, but they have also been co-opted by humans because of their medicinal, nutritional or industrial properties. We use a combination of biochemistry, metabolomics, comparative genomics and transcriptomics, and functional genomics to identify and reconstruct plant metabolic pathways to understand how and why plants produce so many chemicals. We are currently interested in a class of specialized metabolites called acylsugars, which are defensive compounds produced in the Solanaceae family. Acylsugars are produced from simple core metabolites, sugars and acyl-CoAs, and are synthesized and accumulate in glandular trichomes on the leaf and stem surfaces. Acylsugar-like compounds have been identified in divergent species outside the Solanaceae family, yet these pathways are unknown. We will use this as a model to understand how the metabolic pathways have evolved in divergent plant lineages to produce similar chemical compounds.

We are also interested in how core metabolic pathways have been tailored to meet the metabolic demand into acylsugar biosynthesis. Particularly how the acyl-CoA percussors are modified prior to attachment onto the sugar core. The ultimate goals are to use diverse plant enzymes and pathways to engineer more resilient crops or enhance production of medicinal compounds in plants.

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  • Eric E. Conn Young Investigator Award, American Society of Plant Biologists, 2019
  • Publications Committee, American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Treasurer, Early Career Plant Biologists Section American Society of Plant Biologists


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Fan P, Wang P, Lou Y-R, Leong BJ, Moore BM, Schenck CA, Combs R, Cao P, Brandizzi F, Shiu S-H, Last RL. (2020) Evolution of a plant gene cluster in Solanaceae and emergence of metabolic diversity. eLife, DOI:10.7554/eLIFE.56717

Schenck CA, Last RL. (2020) Location, location! Cellular relocalization primes specialized metabolic diversification. FEBS J., DOI:10.1111/febs.15097

Schenck CA, Westphal J, Jayaraman D, Garcia K, Wen J, Mysore KS, Ané J-M, Sumner LW, Maeda HA. (2020) Role of cytosolic, tyrosine-insensitive prephenate dehydrogenase in Medicago truncatula. Plant Direct, DOI:10.1002/pld3.218

Cao P, Kim S-J, Schenck CA, Xing A, Liu L, Jiang N, Wang J, Last RL, Brandizzi F. (2019) Homeostasis of branched-chain amino acids is critical for the activity of TOR signaling in Arabidopsis. eLife, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.50747

Moore BM, Wang P, Fan P, Leong B, Schenck CA, Lloyd JP, Lehti-Shiu MD, Last RL, Pichersky E, Shiu S-H, (2019) Robust predictions of specialized metabolism genes through machine learning. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 116 (6) 2344-2353. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1817074116

Schenck CA, Maeda HA. (2018) Tyrosine biosynthesis, metabolism, and catabolism in plants. Phytochemistry, 149, 82-102. DOI:10.1016/j.phytochem.2018.02.003

Schenck CA, Men Y, Maeda HA. (2017) Conserved molecular mechanism of TyrA dehydrogenase substrate specificity underlying alternative tyrosine biosynthetic pathways in plants and microbes. Front. Mol. Biosci., 4, 73. DOI:10.3389/fmolb.2017.00073

Schenck CA, Holland CK, Schneider M, Men Y, Lee SG, Jez JM, Maeda HA. (2017) Molecular basis of the evolution of alternative tyrosine biosynthetic pathways in plants. Nat. Chem. Biol., 13, 1029-1035. DOI:10.1038/nchembio.2414

Schenck CA, Chen S, Siehl DL, Maeda HA. (2015) Non-plastidic, tyrosine-insensitive prephenate dehydrogenases from legumes. Nat. Chem. Biol., 11, 52-57. DOI:10.1038/nchembio.1693


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