Plants generate energy through photosynthesis throughout the day, and need a way to store this energy at night in order to maintain growth when there is no sunlight available.
They do this in the form of starch, a carbohydrate made up of many glucose chains, which are bundled together into an insoluble starch granule.
Fixed carbon is stored as transitory starch in the chloroplasts of leaves.
Jiawen’s project aims to look at the biochemical mechanisms behind the first steps of starch granule initiation, and the proteins that determine the number, size and shape of granules in a chloroplast.
She is primarily using the model organism Arabidopsis to look at protein interactions that influence leaf transitory starch formation.
Starch is also formed in amyloplasts of storage organs such as seeds and tubers. This storage starch is what we use for human consumption.
The extensive research in Arabidopsis is now allowing us to probe for protein functions in agriculturally important crops such as wheat.
A second part of her project involves looking at the same starch granule initiation proteins in wheat leaves and grains, and determining whether they have similar or different functions compared to Arabidopsis.
She is a PhD student in the Seung lab, funded by a John Innes Foundation Rotation studentship.
She completed a Bsc in Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh in 2018. During this time, she joined the International Undergraduate Summer School and enjoyed it so much that she returned for her PhD.
Jiawen enjoys science communication and has participated in various public engagement events, such as the Norwich Science Festival and Royal Norfolk Show. Outside of the lab, she loves baking.
Chen J,Hawkins E,Seung D (2021)Towards targeted starch modification in plantsCurrent Opinion in Plant Biology (Volume 60, April 2021, 102013)