Chemical biology is a growing field that combines the scientific ideas and approaches of chemistry, biology and allied disciplines to understand and manipulate biological systems with molecular level. We believe that small molecules, which selectively disrupt the proteins encoded by individual genes, could become powerful tools to solved many biological problems. Our laboratory is doing research on the biological function and the signal transduction mechanism of plant hormones, especially abscisic acid (ABA), by using chemical biology and chemical genetics. The most distinctive feature of our lab is that it offers the opportunity to learn about both chemistry and biology.
Plants are challenged by numerous environmental conditions causing biotic and abiotic stresses. ABA regulates various developmental processes such as seed dormancy and stomatal closure, and it has a central role in adaptive responses to abiotic stress such as drought, cold and salinity. Abiotic stresses elevate endogenous ABA levels and initiate a series of adaptive responses, including transcriptional activation of stress-response genes and induction of stomatal closure. Because abiotic stress is known to influence plant productivity, ABA signal transduction has been considered an attractive target to confer plant tolerance to drought and salinity.
Based on the crystal structure of ABA receptor complexes, we are developing ABA receptor agonists and antagonists, which activate or inhibit ABA responses, respectively, not only in model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, but also in crops. In addition, we address ourselves to elucidate the action mechanism of ABA in diverse plant species by using agonists and antagonists; ABA is found universally in land plants, but the signal transduction of ABA in non-model plants remains unclear. Given the role of ABA in numerous stress responses across virtually all land plants, chemicals capable of disrupting ABA signaling would be a valuable tool for dissecting the various roles of ABA. In practical terms, ABA receptor agonists and antagonists may have potential agricultural value as tools to control the rate of seed germination and drought tolerance, which may contribute to enhanced crop productivity.