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Washington State University Molecular Plant Sciences

Philip Bates


Associate Professor,  Institute of Biological Chemistry
Ph.D. Michigan State University 2008, B.S. University of California, Davis 2002

Phil Bates

Research Interests:

The fatty acids attached to lipids (oils, fats, membrane lipids) are the most energy-dense form of biological carbon storage. Plant storage lipids (e.g. vegetable oils) supply humans with much of the calories and nutritionally important fatty acids required in our diet. Plant oils also represent a renewable carbon source that can replace petroleum as feedstocks for the chemical industry (for polymers, lubricants, soaps, etc.) or as bio-fuels. However, not all plant oils are alike and the usefulness of each for food, chemicals or fuels depends on the composition of the fatty acids within the oil. In addition to oils, fatty acid based membrane lipids are an essential part of all life, and the dynamics of membrane lipid metabolism is key to understanding cellular function. A long-term goal of my lab is to understand the control of fatty acid flux through the overlapping metabolic pathways of essential membrane lipid synthesis and the synthesis plant oils with diverse fatty acid compositions.

My lab uses a variety of biochemical, genetic, and molecular biology approaches to investigate plant lipid metabolism. One key approach is the use of radioisotopic tracers to measure lipid metabolic flux in vivo for discovery of novel metabolic pathways, and elucidate bottlenecks within plant lipid engineering. When combined with genetic and molecular biology approaches, lipid flux analysis allows us to elucidate the genes/enzymes that are essential for controlling the flux of fatty acids into desired end products. To understand both membrane lipid and storage lipid metabolism our research involves a variety of plant tissues (e.g. developing seeds or leaves), and a variety of experimental organisms such as: model plant species (Arabidopsis thaliana, Nicotiana benthamiana); crops (soybean, Camelina sativa, tobacco); and natural plant species that produce industrially useful unusual fatty acids (Physaria fendleri, castor bean). By elucidating the control of fatty acid flux through lipid metabolism we will be able to understand the complex connections between essential membrane lipid function and accumulation of valuable storage oils, as well as produce designer vegetable oils to meet the nutritional, bio-fuel or industrial demands of the future.

Links to current publications and lab activity

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