Dr. Nikolau’s research interests focus on the biochemistry and molecular biology of biotin and biotin-containing enzymes and the regulation of plant lipid metabolism.
Biotin and biotin-containing enzymes: Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin that is biosynthesized by plants and some bacteria and fungi. Its biochemical function is as a covalently-bound cofactor on a family of enzymes that catalyze reactions in a variety of crucial metabolic processes. Examples of such enzymes are acetyl-CoA carboxylase, methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase and geranoyl-CoA carboxylase, which are required for lipogenesis, leucine metabolism and isoprenoid metabolism, respectively. In the last five years Dr. Nikolau’s laboratory, in collaboration with Dr. Eve S. Wurtele, has made major advances in the isolation and characterization of the genes coding for biotin-containing enzymes and the enzymes required for biotin biosynthesis.
Lipid metabolism: Research is focused on the understanding the biosynthesis of unusual plant lipids; specifically, cuticular waxes. Cuticular waxes are the surface lipids that act as a water-barrier for the ariel parts of plants. These lipids are derivatives of very long-chain fatty acids that are synthesized by the epidermal cells of the plant. Molecular genetic approaches are being taken to isolate genes required for the normal biosynthesis of the cuticular waxes. Research is now focused on elucidating the biochemical function of the proteins encoded by these isolated genes. The long term goal is to fully elucidate the cuticular wax biosynthetic pathway and its biochemical and genetic regulation.
Genome structure and meiotic recombination: Meiotic recombination is a major mechanisms by which genetic diversity is generated in a genome. Such diversity is a prerequisite for selection, by which, the evolutionary development of a genome occurs. Although meiotic recombination is dependent upon the physical organization of the genome, this interrelationship is undefined. Dr. Nikolau’s laboratory, in collaboration with Dr. Patrick S. Schnable, is undertaking research to examine the relationship between genome structure and meiotic recombination.