Aleksandra Skirycz

Professor
Lab Number: 210
Office number: 205
Research Overview

Small-molecule regulatory networks – from interactions to function

Small-molecule Regulatory Network

The Small-molecule Regulatory Networks group aims to uncover the function of small molecules. We are especially interested in identifying and characterizing the functionality of metabolites acting at the nexus of metabolism and growth under control (health) and stress (disease) conditions. The group works primarily with Arabidopsis and yeast, but we don’t shy away from other model and non-model organisms. The long-term goal of our research is to apply our findings to improve plant and animal health.

Living organisms are outstanding organic chemists, producing diverse small-molecule compounds that cover vast structural and functional diversity. These compounds – called metabolites – are central to all biological processes, from structural elements and energy sources, to regulators and signals. Not surprisingly, natural compounds constitute an essential source of drugs and agrochemicals. Yet, the metabolome remains largely terra incognita.

Why the mystery? First of all, we do not understand the full chemical complexity of even well-studied model organisms. Secondly, we often do not understand the function of the metabolites we do know, while new roles are constantly being assigned to central compounds such as amino acids and sugars.

How do you identify the function of a metabolite? Small molecules rarely work on their own but rather via interactions with proteins. Thus, following the proverbial “tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are,” identification of protein interactors can be used to unravel the function of a metabolite.

How do you identify metabolite–protein interactions? To gain insight into the function of small molecules, the Small-molecule Regulatory Networks group uses a unique experimental toolbox, which enables metabolite–protein–protein interaction studies on a cell-wide scale and in near-in vivo conditions. We combine classical biochemistry with state-of-the-art mass spectrometry metabolomic and proteomic methods, and use computational tools to generate and mine metabolite–protein interaction networks.

The group originated at the Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Golm, Germany, where it will continue as a partner guest group until March 2022. https://www.mpimp-golm.mpg.de/2218806/skirycz

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