Dr. Tokuhisa studies biochemical and molecular mechanisms for the specialized metabolism of chemical defense compounds in wild and domesticated plants.
Plants modify the primary metabolites common to all organisms using novel enzymatic pathways to produce derivative compounds. Plants then deploy these novel compounds making themselves toxic and antibiotic toward insect herbivores, pathogenic microbes and other enemies. The biosyntheses of these defense compounds could compete with primary metabolism and the deployed compounds could be toxic to the plant, yet chemical defense is completely integrated in the life cycle, maximizing plant fitness against predation. The Tokuhisa Laboratory uses tools of biochemistry, molecular biology and physiological ecology to investigate the molecular adaptations used by different plant species to maximize fitness through the investigation of chemical defenses with their particular life cycle behavior. Of particular interest are the glucosinolates in Arabidopsis thaliana, which are the principal flavor components in mustard and wasabi, and the steroidal glycoalkaloids of Solanum chacoense-- bitter compounds found in potato and tomato. Dr. Tokuhisa has a background in plant adaptation to the physical and biological environment and has expertise in plant biochemistry and molecular biology.