Newswise — Jantana Keereetaweep, a biochemistry research associate in the biology department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded the Paul K. Stumpf Award for her research on plant lipids (fats and oils). The award, given every two years, recognizes the contributions of a promising early-career scientist in honor of Stumpf, who was a world leader and pioneer in the study of plant lipid biochemistry.

Keereetaweep will receive a cash award and will present her work via videoconference to the international plant lipid research community this summer.

“Dr. Stumpf revolutionized the field of plant lipids. Receiving this award in his name is a great honor, but I believe it is more a reflection of the great work being done at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and especially by our team, headed by Dr. John Shanklin. While we are studying fundamental aspects of plant lipid biosynthesis, our group is also contributing toward the larger effort of developing more efficient means of bioenergy production to address global warming. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Shanklin and all my colleagues at Brookhaven Lab for the opportunity to work with them on this important challenge,” Keereetaweep said.

Keereetaweep has helped to unravel details of the complicated biochemical pathways that control the synthesis of oil in plants. These studies are essential for understanding fundamental processes necessary for plants’ survival, and also lay the foundation for engineering plants to make more oil or lipid-based bioproducts such as fuels and raw materials for industrial processes.

John Shanklin and Jantana Keereetaweep describe research on plant oils at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory

At Brookhaven, Keereetaweep has helped decode the dynamics of enzymes involved in oil synthesis. In one example, her work uncovered the mechanism behind a link between sugar signaling and the synthesis of fatty acids—the building blocks of oils and fats. She used an innovative technique to painstakingly track and measure the interactions among many different molecules, and has captured atomic-level snapshots of these molecules using x-rays at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility. Those details could help point to ways to modify the cell’s regulatory circuitry to prioritize the production of oil.

“Jan brings exceptional drive, creativity, and intellectual rigor to her work,” said John Shanklin, Chair of Brookhaven Lab’s biology department. “She is a wonderfully talented scientist who has successfully completed highly demanding studies while also mentoring students and being graciously open and supportive towards her colleagues.”

Keereetaweep earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from the University of North Texas, Denton, in 2015, publishing 14 peer-reviewed papers from the research that led to her degree. Prior to that, she earned her Master’s in medicinal chemistry and Bachelor’s in pharmacy from Chiang Mai University in Thailand in 2009 and 2002, respectively. She joined Brookhaven Lab’s biology department as a postdoctoral research associate in 2015. In addition to her research activities, she serves as a reviewer and board member for the International Journal of Molecular Science.

Keereetaweep’s work at Brookhaven is funded by the DOE Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/

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