Dr. Leland J. Cseke

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Assistant Professor

Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
Engineering Tree Biomass and Plant Oils for Bioenergy
Species Identification Using Molecular Diagnostics
Functional Genomics of Plant-Microbe Interactions

Office: Shelby Center Room 302J
Phone: 256.824.6774

Research Description

Research in our lab makes use of some of the most advanced modern molecular techniques to address fundamental environmental and social issues. We use a variety of tools and techniques from basic biochemistry and molecular biology to functional genomics and bioinformatics to get at the heart of how plants impact people and our environment. Our lab collaborates with a number of other academic and government labs in U.S. and abroad, allowing students and researchers opportunities to visit these other labs and expand and enrich their cultural and research experience. Summaries of our primary projects are as follows: (1) There has been a lot of hype about the need for new sources of fuel these days. We have all felt the impact of overseas oil issues, hurricanes, oil spills and the subsequent fluctuating prices of petroleum fuels. Our lab is pursuing several projects that focus on the development of better sources of energy. For the last 10 years, our lab has been involved in developing poplar trees for increasing cellulosic biomass for bioenergy. Ongoing projects include the characterization of tree genes that can be used in the development of trees with enhanced resistance to pests, oxidative stresses and increased carbon sequestration. Through collaborations with the Department of Energy (DOE), we have performed transcriptomic studies to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of how different aspen trees have differing abilities to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. A more recent project, in collaboration with The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) in India, aims to use metabolic engineering of seed oil to generate Jatropha curcas trees with improved or altered oil biosynthetic capacity. Through next generation sequencing, we have been characterizing the oil biosynthetic pathway as well as regulatory factors involved in seed oil production, and we are using such data to target molecular pathways that may be limiting oil biosynthesis. (2) Similar to the projects above, our lab is studying how trees and fungi come together in a symbiotic relationship termed mycorrhiza. We often never realize that it is the fungus in the soil that often allows each tree to gather nutrients from the environment. Without such beneficial organisms, we would likely have no forests, no wood, no paper, and our environment would suffer greatly. Our lab was one of the first labs to genetically engineer mycorrhizal fungi for functional genomic studies and also to develop strains of ectomycorrhizal fungi as biological control agents for improving the health and growth of trees. Our lab has been involved in the first genome-sequencing project of an ectomycorrhizal fungus, Laccaria bicolor, by the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. Current projects include a collaboration with the Department of Energy/Argonne National Labs in the improvement of genome annotations and the analysis of symbiotic, plant stress and nutrient related differential gene expression using next generation sequencing. Our aim is to apply such studies towards a Systems Biology level understand of gene function at the organismal level. (3) Other projects in the lab focus on invasive plant species and how we can help to prevent their detrimental impact on our environment. With the expanding globalization of trade, the impact of invasive plants continues to increase, costing the U.S. an estimated 34.5 billion dollars annually. Many invasive weed species continue to be accidentally introduced to the U.S. as contaminants of crop seeds, spices, produce, packaging and cargo air vents. Once established, such invasive plants often spread undetected through ornamental varieties or mistaken identity of seed and juvenile stages that appear identical to non-invasive varieties. In collaboration with the USDA, our lab is developing molecular diagnostic techniques that can quickly and cost-effectively identify invasive plant species that are otherwise difficult to identify. Such techniques have had diverse impact, including saving endangered native plant species that were mistakenly identified as their invasive counterparts. (4) Toxins in the environment and perhaps more recently those that are introduced as acts of bio-terrorism are a serious concern for modern society. Our lab is working on a collaborative research project between UA-Huntsville, CFDRC at HudsonAlpha and Research Triangle in North Carolina to develop a biological-based food and water toxicity sensor for the U.S. military.

Selected Publications

Cseke, L.J., Tsai, C-J., Rogers, A., Nelsen, M.P., White, H.L., Karnosky, D.F., Podila, G.K. (2009) Transcriptomic comparison in the leaves of two aspen genotypes having similar carbon assimilation rates but different partitioning patterns under elevated [CO2]: New Phytologist 182: 891–911.

Cseke, L.J., Podila, G.K., Kirakosyan A., Kaufman P. (2009) Plants as Sources of Energy. In Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology. Kaufman, P.B. and Kirakosyan, A. (eds): Springer, Germany, 2009.

Cseke, L.J. and Podila, G.K. (2008) The Genomics Era: Methods and analysis of whole genome sequence. In: Varma, A. and Verma, N. (eds) Textbook on Molecular Biotechnology. I. K. International Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi.

Cseke, L.J., Kaufman, P.B., Kirakosyan A. (2007) The biology of essential oils in the pollination of flowers. Natural Product Communications 2(12): 1317-1336

Cseke, L.J., Cseke, S.B., Podila, G.K. (2007) High efficiency poplar transformation. Plant Cell Reports 26(9): 1529-1538.

Cseke, L.J., Ravinder, N., Pandey, A.K., Podila, G.K. (2007) Identification of PTM5 protein interaction partners, a MADS-box gene involved in aspen tree vegetative development. GENE 391: 209-222. Natural Products from Plants-2nd ed. L.J.

Cseke, A. Kirakosyan, P.B. Kaufman, S. Warber, J.A. Duke, and H.L. Brielmann: CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida, 2006, finalist for the prestigious Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Book Awards for the "2009 Annual Award for a Significant Work in Botanical or Horticultural Literature".