Research Overview

Welcome to the Rowland Lab!
The major themes of our lab are plant metabolism, plant-environment interactions, and metabolic engineering of plants and microbes. Our research group is currently focused on understanding the biosynthesis and functions of plant surface barriers that are composed mostly of polymerized lipids and associated waxes. These barriers protect plants against various environmental stresses, such as drought and pathogen attack. Our ultimate aim is to provide information and tools for the development of stress-tolerant crop plants. We are also part of an international consortium of researchers working on a project titled ‘Industrial Crops Producing Added Value Oils for Novel Chemicals’ (ICON). Our aim is to develop high value plant oils to replace some of the fossil oils currently used in the global chemicals industry.

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Plants have three major extracellular lipid-and phenolic-based biopolymers that protect them from uncontrolled water loss and pathogens: cuticle, suberin, and sporopollenin. Cuticle coats the aerial surfaces of land plants. It consists of waxes embedded within and overlaying an esterified polymer of C16 and C18 chain-length fatty acids (cutin). Suberin is a polymer similar to cutin that is present in the cell walls of various external and internal tissue layers, including root endodermis and peridermis. Sporopollenin is a lipid- and phenolic-based polymer present in the outer layer of pollen walls (exine). These three chemically-related barriers form key protective interfaces between the plant and its environment. Major goals of our research program are to understand the enzymatic synthesis, physiological functions, and regulated deposition of these plant extracellular barriers.
Figure 1. Three types of extracellular biopolymers in plants.

We are using a combination of molecular genetics, biochemical, cell biology, and genomic approaches to carry out our research objectives. Most of our studies use Arabidopsis thaliana, as mutants affecting the production of these barriers are relatively easy to obtain with this model plant. We are translating the fundamental knowledge gained from our Arabidopsis research to crop plants, such as the emerging oilseed crop Camelina sativa that is being developed as a source of biofuels and high-value bioproducts. We are also taking advantage of microbes heterologously expressing plant enzymes for biochemical and engineering studies.
Figure 2. The model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the oilseed crop Camelina sativa.

A detailed understanding of protective plant surface lipid barriers will assist plant breeders and biotechnologists in generating crops that are more stress resistant. The improvement of crop tolerance to drought is particularly attractive considering changing climate conditions are currently limiting crop production in large areas of the world, including Canada, and will likely get worse over the next few decades. In addition, plant surface lipids are composed of renewable hydrocarbons that are chemically suitable for replacement of petroleum products as sources of energy and chemical feedstocks. Fundamental knowledge of plant surface lipid biosynthesis at the molecular level is critical for harnessing this renewable chemical resource to its full potential.

Our lab is currently funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC Discovery and Accelerator Grants), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund, and The Embassy of France in Canada (France-Canada Research Fund).


[July 28, 2014] Our first paper on the emerging oilseed crop Camelina sativa is published in Phytochemistry! Check it out here, "Extracellular lipids of Camelina sativa: Characterization of chloroform-extractable waxes from aerial and subterranean surfaces". Congratulations to all authors (including those from Michigan State and Algoma Universities), and especially to Fakhria Muhammad Razeq from Carleton as the first author, a truly exceptional achievement from her undergraduate studies!

[July 25, 2014] Our Myb41 paper is published in The Plant Journal! This is the first report of a stress-induced transcription factor controlling the deposition of the the protective suberin polymer in plant cell walls. Click here to see the paper, "AtMYB41 Activates Ectopic Suberin Synthesis and Assembly in Multiple Plant Species and Cell Types". Congratulations to all authors including our excellent collaborators from Michigan State University and Algoma University. Jhadeswar, Fakhria, and Owen were the team members from Carleton.
[July 6-11, 2014] Jhadeswar Murmu, Jerry Wu and Owen Rowland attend the 21st International Symposium on Plant Lipids (ISPL2014) held in Guelph, Canada, which Owen co-organized. Jhadeswar presented his work on Brassica napus seed-expressed FAR6 enzymes, Jerry presented on natural variation of Camelina spp. seed oils, and our collaborator, Dylan Kosma, presented the Myb41 suberin work. Click here for more pictures from the conference.

[May 12-15, 2014] Fakhria M. Razeq and Owen Rowland attend the 9th Canadian Plant Biotechnology Conference in Montreal. Fakhria presented her work on "Profiling the protective surface lipids of the oilseed crop Camelina sativa" and Owen gave a talk on "Production of Commercially Relevant Fatty Alcohols and Wax Esters in Engineered Oilseed Crops and Microorganisms". And we heard about many exciting developments in the rapidly growing area of plant/agricultural biotechnology!

[April 30, 2014] Jerry successfully defends his undergraduate research thesis entitled "Natural variation for seed oil content and composition in Camelina sativa (L.) Crantz and Camelina microcarpa Andrz ex DC. (Brassicaceae) ". He also presented his work at the annual Faculty of Science Undergraduate Research Day on April 10th. Excellent job Jerry!

[April 14, 2014] Congratulations to Sean Walkowiak for winning the Carleton University Outstanding TA Award. Only five of these awards are given out each year for the whole university. No doubt, Sean is a superb educator and there are many grateful students (especially those who have taken Introductory Genetics!).

[Nov. 10, 2013] The ALT paper entitled "Acyl-lipid thioesterase1-4 from Arabidopsis thaliana form a novel family of fatty acyl-acyl carrier protein thioesterases with divergent expression patterns and substrate specificities" is published in Plant Molecular Biology! Congratulations to all authors, especially Ian Pulsifer as first author and Christine Lowe who started the ball rolling. Click here to read the paper.


[Oct. 22, 2013] The website for the International Symposium on Plant Lipids (ISPL2014) is now 'live'. Owen Rowland is co-organizer. ISPL2014 is being held at the University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario, Canada) July 6-11, 2014. It promises to be an exciting meeting focusing on some of the most current developments and emerging ideas in the field of plant lipid biology. The planned program also includes a number of social events, including an opening reception, poster sessions and mixers, and a conference banquet. Delegates will also have the opportunity to participate in an optional tour of the Niagara Falls Region. Check out the conference website!

[Sept. 9, 2013] Our paper on suberin-associated fatty alcohols and far1/4/5 mutants co-authored with Frederic Domergue and colleagues from Bordeaux, France is published in Plant Physiology! Congratulations to all authors, especially Vishwa as first author. Click here to read the paper.


[Sept. 4, 2013] Congratulations to Micaela Chacon on successfully defending her MSc thesis entitled "Identification of Amino Acids Conferring Chain-Length Substrate Specificities on Fatty Alcohol-Forming Reductases FAR5 and FAR8 from Arabidopsis thaliana". And on the very same day, we learnt that the work from Micaela's thesis was accepted for publication in the prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry! Click here to read the paper. Congratulations to all authors of the paper! We wish Micaela the very best in her PhD studies at the University of Bath in England.

[July 7 - June 10, 2013] Owen Rowland attended the 6th European Symposium on Plant Lipids in Bordeaux, France presenting the work of Micaela Chacon et al. on FAR protein engineering and the work of Fakhria M. Razeq et al. on Camelina surface lipids. Some great recreation time was also spent in France. Picture is of Fred Domergue and Owen hiking at the Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees.

[May 24 - June 1, 2013] Dylan Kosma (Michigan State University) and Isabel Molina (Algoma University) visited the Rowland lab. We had a great time discussing science and writing papers...sometimes while drinking beer on the patio.

[May 1, 2013] Welcome undergraduates Namdar, Brad, and Jerry to the Rowland lab! Namdar and Brad are summer NSERC-USRA students who will be studying suberin biopolymer production. Jerry is a honours research thesis student who will be studying the seed oil compositions of Camelina species.
[May 1, 2013] Introducing Doctor Sollapura Vishwanath! Vishwa wrote an outstanding PhD thesis and did a great job at his defence. The first PhD graduate from the Rowland Lab! All the best in your future endeavours Vishwa! We know you'll do great things.