MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

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Walton Laboratory

What We Do

 

Conocybe albipes growing in MSU lawn. This mushroom makes the bicyclic peptide phalloidin.

Conocybe albipes growing in MSU lawn. This mushroom makes the bicyclic peptide phalloidin.

We work on a variety of questions involving plant/pathogen interactions, the biosynthesis of natural products, and enzymes for bioenergy applications. The common theme is the Kingdom Mycota, also known as the Fungi.

  1. Fungi are the major group of plant pathogens, destroying billions of dollars of crop value every year throughout the world.
    Our lab specializes in studying the host-selective toxins (HSTs), which are secondary metabolites that account for the virulence and specificity of many fungal plant pathogens. Diseases that involve host-selective toxins have caused some of the world's worst plant disease epidemics, including the Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970 in the U.S. Our work on HSTs encompasses the enzymology and molecular genetics of their biosynthesis, understanding the molecular basis of their specificity, and their mechanisms of action. For more information see Host selective toxins and Histone deacetylases.

     

  2. Fungi are the source of many of our most important pharmaceutical agents.
    These includie penicillin, statins, and cyclosporin. Fungi also make some of the most nefarious natural products, such as the mycotoxins (e.g., aflatoxins) and the toxins of deadly poisonous mushrooms (e.g., alpha-amanitin and phalloidin). With funding from the NIH, we are working on the molecular genetics of amatoxin and phallotoxin biosynthesis in the mushroom genera Amanita, Galerina, and Conocybe.  For more information see Biosynthesis of the Amanita toxins.

     

Optimized proportions of 11 enzymes for release of Glc from alkaline peroxide-pretreated corn stover.

Optimized proportions of 11 enzymes for release of Glc from alkaline peroxide-pretreated corn stover.
Yield was 87% of total Glc.

  1. Fungi are the pre-eminent recyclers in terrestrial ecosystems.
    They secrete an immense variety of degradative enzymes capable of converting all known biological polymers, including lignin and cellulose, to metabolizable compounds such as sugars. Fungal enzymes have many uses in food processing, industry, and biomass conversion. The use of fungal enzymes to convert lignocelluosic materials to fermentable sugars for production of "second generation" biofuels is an active area of research in our lab. Our research is supported by the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. For more information see Enzymes for Bioenergy.

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Past research areas in the Walton lab include herbicide safeners, plant cell wall biosynthesis, and the role of cell wall degrading enzymes in plant pathogenesis. See the appropriate sections under Research for more information.