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Jing-Ke Weng, Ph.D.

Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Assistant Professor, Department of Biology

Room WI-361c
(617) 324-4921 (phone)


B.S. in Biotechnology, Zhejiang University, 2003
Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Purdue University, 2009
Postdoc. Salk Institute, 2013

Research Summary

Early plants began colonizing the terrestrial earth approximately 450 million years ago. Their success on land has been attributed to the evolution of elaborate specialized metabolic systems from core metabolic pathways, the former yielding a panoply of functionally diverse chemicals to cope with a myriad of biotic and abiotic ecological pressures.

Our lab has broad interests in understanding the origin and evolution of plant specialized metabolism at enzyme, pathway, and systems levels, as well as how plants exploit discrete small molecules to interact with their surrounding biotic and abiotic environments. Our work in plant metabolic evolution impacts a fundamental question in biology - how do complex traits evolve in a Darwinian fashion? In addition, we actively seek opportunities to utilize plant as a unique model system to study human diseases, including metabolic syndromes and protein-misfolding diseases. In the long run, we also aim at elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying the "matrix effect" known from many traditional herbal remedies used for thousands of years. We believe that basic scientific research motivated by curiosity will be key to address the societal challenges of tomorrow.

Current topics of interest for the lab include:

  • Hormone metabolism, biased ligands, and complex signaling
  • Structural, energetic, and mechanistic determinants of enzyme evolvability
  • Molecular mechanisms associated with protein misfolding in plants
  • Personalized cocktail medicine inspired by traditional herbal remedies

Selected Publications

  • Weng JK. (2013) The evolutionary paths towards complexity: a metabolic perspective. New Phytol. (In press)
  • Weng JK and Noel JP. (2013) Chemodiversity in Selaginella: a reference system for parallel and convergent metabolic evolution in terrestrial plants. Front Plant Sci. 4:119.
  • Weng JK and Noel JP. (2012) The remarkable pliability and promiscuity of specialized metabolism. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 77:309-320.
  • Weng JK, Philippe RN, Noel JP. (2012) The rise of chemodiversity in plants. Science. 336:1667-1670.
  • Weng JK, Li Y, Mo H, Chapple C. (2012) Assembly of an evolutionarily new pathway for α-pyrone biosynthesis in Arabidopsis. Science. 337: 960-964.
  • Weng JK, Akiyama T, Ralph J, Chapple C. (2011) Independent recruitment of an O-methyltransferase for syringyl lignin biosynthesis in Selaginella moellendorffii. Plant Cell. 23: 2708–2724.
  • Weng JK, Akiyama T, Bonawitz ND, Li X, Ralph J, Chapple C. (2010) Convergent evolution of syringyl lignin via distinct biosynthetic pathways in the lycophyte Selaginella and flowering plants. Plant Cell. 22:1033-1045.
  • Weng JK and Chapple C. (2010) The origin and evolution of lignin biosynthesis. New Phytol. 187:273-285.
  • Weng JK, Li X, Stout J, Chapple C. (2008) Independent origins of syringyl lignin in vascular plants. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 105:7887-7892.

Last Updated: December 23, 2013