A major focus of my research group is understanding the evolutionary biosynthesis of the unique betalain pigments in Caryophyllales. All land plants are coloured with flavonoids such as anthocyanins. Caryophyllales are the exception as many lineages have lost anthocyanin pigmentation, which has been replaced by tyrosine-derived betalain pigments. We have developed tools to detect specialized metabolic gene radiations, described the role of gene duplication and neofunctionalization in the evolution of the betalain pathway, identified a betalain-related gene cluster, and supported the characterisation of novel genes in betalain biosynthesis. We recently identified the convergent evolution of betalain biosynthesis and have genetically manipulated primary metabolism to engineer an 8-fold increase in betalain production in heterologous host systems.
Timoneda A, Sheehan S, Feng T, Lopez-Nieves, Maeda HA, Brockington SF (2018) Redirecting Primary Metabolism to Boost Production of Tyrosine-derived Specialised Metabolites in planta. Scientific Reports 8 (1) [pdf]
Brockington SF*, Yang Y*, Gandia-Herrero F, Covshoff S, Sage RF, Hibberd JM, Wong GKS, Moore MJ Smith SA (2015) Lineage-specific gene radiations underly the evolution of novel betalain pigmentation in Caryophyllales. New Phytologist 207(4): 1170-1180 [pdf] [commentary]
Brockington SF, Walker RH, Glover BJ, Soltis PS, Soltis DE (2011) Complex Evolution of Pigmentation in the Caryophyllales. New Phytologist 190: 854–864 [pdf]
Lopez-Nieves, S, Yang Y, Timoneda A, Wang M, Feng T, Smith SA, Brockington SF, Maeda, H. (2017) Relaxation of Tyrosine Pathway Regulation Underlies the Evolution of Betalain Pigmentation in Caryophyllales. New Phytologist 217: 896-908 [pdf] [commentary 1] [commentary 2]
Timoneda A , Feng T , Sheehan H , Walker‐Hale N, Pucker B , Lopez‐Nieves S , Guo R, Brockington SF (2019) The evolution of betalain biosynthesis in Caryophyllales. New Phytologist 224: 71-85 [pdf]