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Jennifer Wisecaver

Jennifer Wisecaver Profile Picture

Assistant Professor

Department of Biochemistry

Purdue Center for Plant Biology

Contact Info:



Phone: 765-494-4157

Office: BCHM A343C

Training Group(s):
Chromatin and Regulation of Gene Expression

Current Research Interests:

Research in the Wisecaver lab is focused on the genomic basis of evolutionary innovation, which we study in plants, fungi, and eukaryotic microbes. By integrating our findings across these diverse lineages, we aim to evaluate the timing, consequence, and generality of different genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of novel traits in organisms.

The traits that we focus on—specialized metabolites—allow organisms to interact with and manage the world around them. For example, land plants, being sessile and at the mercy of their surroundings, produce specialized metabolites to resist abiotic stress, attract pollinators and seed dispersers, and combat pathogens and herbivores. Similarly, fungi, which digest their food externally and must guard these nutrients from competitors, produce many potent antimicrobial metabolites. Specialized metabolic pathways are often the business end of evolutionary arms races; as one species evolves a toxic pathway, a competing species evolves complementary resistance. Biochemical surveys of species from across the tree of life suggest that the number of specialized metabolic pathways is enormous. Yet, because of their fast-evolving nature, nearly all of these pathways are unresolved at the genetic level, which has slowed our ability to draw general conclusions about their evolution. Thanks to amazing advances in sequencing technology and computational biology, work in the lab aims to accelerate the pace of research in this area.

 Currently, the lab uses 1) functional genomics & network biology to identify the genes responsible for making specialized metabolites followed by 2) comparative genomics & phylogenetics to untangle the genes' evolutionary history. Questions we ask include: What is the relative contribution of gene duplication, horizontal gene transfer, and other sources of innovation such as de novo gene formation in the birth of new metabolic pathways? What is the speed and importance of gene innovation at the regulatory versus enzymatic level? How does the impact of these processes vary across environments and between lineages?

Selected Publications:

Wisecaver, JH, AT Borowsky, V Tzin, G Jander, D Kliebenstein & A Rokas. 2017. A global co-expression approach for connecting genes to specialized metabolic pathways in plants. The Plant Cell 29: 944–959

Wisecaver, JH, WG Alexander, SB King, CT Hittinger & A Rokas. 2016. Dynamic evolution of nitric oxide detoxifying flavohemoglobins, a family of single-protein metabolic modules in bacteria and eukaryotes. Mol Biol Evol 33: 1979-1987

Alexander, WG, JH Wisecaver, A Rokas & CT Hittinger. 2016. Horizontally acquired genes in early-diverging pathogenic fungi enable the use of host nucleosides and nucleotides. PNAS 113: 4116–4121

Wisecaver, JH & A Rokas. 2015. Fungal metabolic gene clusters – caravans traveling across genomes and environments. Frontiers in Microbiology 6: 161

Lind, AL, JH Wisecaver, TD Smith, X Feng, AM Calvo & A Rokas. 2015. Examining the evolution of the regulatory circuit controlling secondary metabolism and development in the fungal genus Aspergillus. PLOS Genetics 11: e1005096

Wisecaver, JH, JC Slot & A Rokas. 2014. The evolution of fungal metabolic pathways. PLOS Genetics 10: e1004816

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