Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center

Dr. Ling Yuan
Plant Metabolic Engineering / Plant Cell Genetics
Natural Products Genomics

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Since obtaining his Ph.D. degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1988, Ling Yuan spent 5 years in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, first as a post-doctoral fellow and later as a non-tenure-tracked researcher.  Until 2003, he worked 10 years in the biotechnology industry as a scientist and a manager.  His research interests have been protein and metabolic pathway engineering.  From 1993-98 he was a principal scientist at Calgene, a Monsanto company, where he pioneered protein engineering of fatty-acid synthetic enzymes and successfully applied the engineered enzymes to modify plant oil compositions.  From 1998-2003 he was a program manager at Maxygen, a leading biotech company in Directed Evolution.  At Maxygen, he led multiple research teams in collaboration with Pioneer/Dupont Company.  The collaboration has resulted in successful modifications of several targeted enzymes with improved activity or novel specificities.  In 2003 he returned to academia as an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky.

The Yuan laboratory is interested in studying the mechanisms of and engineering new functions for transcription factors (TFs) and metabolic enzymes such as cytochrome P450. Transcription factors are sequence-specific DNA binding proteins that interact with the promoter regions of target genes and modulate the rate of initiation of transcription. Plant pathways controlling biosynthesis of many bioactive secondary metabolites are regulated by one or more TFs.  Understanding how TFs recognize specific DNA sequences and the ability to utilize the knowledge to create so called “designer TFs” will greatly facilitate many aspects of bioengineering.  The desired protein functions are being generated by novel protein engineering approaches, including laboratory directed evolution, mutagenesis, and combinatorial protein synthesis.  The P450 enzymes catalyze reactions for synthesis of many high value secondary metabolites in plants and are involved in drug metabolism in mammals.  The P450 superfamily is one of the largest protein families, making it an ideal target for exploiting the gene sequence space by laboratory directed evolution.

Ling Yuan is involved in teaching the Biotechnology major course ABT301 and the graduate school Plant Biochemistry course PLS609.

Dr. Ling Yuan and research team his lab at the KTRDC. Pictured left to right: Kathy Shen, Huan Xie, Que Kong, Anderson Paul Kanagaraj, Robert Williams, Sitakanta Pattanaik, Ling Yuan.






Ph.D. graduate student, Joshua Werkman, is interested in engineering and applications of valuable proteins.
Dr. Kil-Young Yun, a member of the Falcone Lab, isolates genes from manipulated plants.







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