Research interests are in plant metabolic adaptations to environmental stress, with particular emphasis on the biochemical genetics of quaternary ammonium and tertiary sulfonium compound synthesis. Quaternary ammonium and tertiary sulfonium compounds are
thought to function as compatible cytoplasmic osmotic solutes, and may play a role in plant adaptation to salinity, drought, high temperature and cold temperature stresses. Genes encoding enzymes of quaternary ammonium and tertiary sulfonium compound
synthesis are rational candidates for metabolic engineering of plant stress tolerance.
Current research in this laboratory is primarily focused on characterizing genes determining the synthesis of the quaternary ammonium compounds glycinebetaine and nicotinic acid betaine (trigonelline) in maize, elucidating the pathway of synthesis of the tertiary sulfonium compound 3-dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) in marine algae and higher plants, and developing computer models for interpreting in vivo isotopic labeling data in plant metabolism. Recent emphasis is on analysis of labeling kinetics of intermediates in the pathways of biosynthesis of floral volatiles in snapdragon and petunia (collaboration with Natalia Dudareva).