A process developed by a biology doctoral student and his mentors is giving cellular biologists a new window into both plant and animal physiology.
Previously, researchers could determine the chemical composition of a sample, but could not determine where the chemicals came from within the sample. Now biologists and chemists will be able to create chemical maps of cellular structures at the molecular level. This advancement will result in a better understanding of how plants and animals function.
Doctoral student Patrick Horn, under the direction of Kent Chapman, Regents Professor of biochemistry and director of the Center for Plant Lipid Research, pioneered the process. The researchers received help from students in Guido Verbeck's Imaging Mass Spectrometry Laboratory. Horn used technology developed by Verbeck, an assistant professor of chemistry, to visualize the chemical composition of lipid droplets. Lipids are present in all organisms, and typically are stored as fats and oils in small droplets.
"Understanding how lipid droplets form and function has major significance," Horn says. "Lipid storage and mobilization underlies human health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. The ability to study these structures on the nanoscale may result in ways to modify how fats are stored and burned."
The team's research recently was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and also was recognized by the Faculty of 1000, an organization that identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research publications.
Horn began his research on lipids in the fall of 2008, and he says that he'll continue working with Chapman and Verbeck until his scheduled graduation in 2013. He says that he plans to become a professor once he completes his doctorate.
"I am excited that my project has provided so many outlets for more questions. Every month we are receiving emails from scientists around the globe wanting to apply this process to their research," Horn says.
Alyssa Yancey with UNT News Service can be reached at Alyssa.Yancey@unt.edu.