Ruthie Angelovici joins Mizzou Biology faculty
Sept. 30, 2015
Ruthie Angelovici introduces people to her research by narrating a PowerPoint presentation she has put together to explain her work. In the slide show, she uses the analogy of Kal El, later to become Superman, escaping from Krypton in a small, one-person spaceship that has food and other necessities to nourish the child as he speeds to Earth moments before the planet explodes. That spaceship, Angelovici says, is similar to the seeds she studies. Seeds are just embryonic plants with a protective outer layer.
“I think seeds are so special because they can wait a very long time to germinate,” she says. ”The embryo has a lot of sophisticated metabolic mechanisms that allow a seed to survive a long time and then still have the ability to germinate.” She notes the oldest Judean date palm in the world in Israel came from a seed that had been in the ground 2,000 years before scientists managed to revive it.
This fall, Angelovici joined the faculty in the Division of Biological Sciences as an assistant professor and is also an investigator in the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. She says her research will investigate the genetic and metabolic basis of amino acid metabolism in seeds.
“I’m searching for the regulatory mechanism controlling amino acid in seeds, which are part of a more complex system,” she says. “Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. Amino acids are important for plants but also for us in terms of consumption.”
The problem, she says, is that major staple food crops such as rice, maize, and wheat, which comprise 70 percent of human food consumption, are deficient in essential amino acids—those that are necessary for human and animal health.
“If we eat something that doesn’t have this healthy balance, basically we can eat all we want, but we will not be healthy,” she says. “It would be like eating chocolate all the time.”
Angelovici says her research will investigate methods to increase the amount of essential amino acids in food stocks such as corn and soybeans, either through classical breeding techniques or via a transgenic breeding system in which the plant genome is altered by the transfer of a gene or genes from another plant. She says scientists have encountered challenges in manipulating the metabolic pathways of amino acids without impacting the health of the plant or the seed yield. Angelovici also wants to make the plants more tolerant of stresses like heat and drought without compromising the amount of essential amino acids.
“What I am looking to do is to unravel the genetic and metabolic mechanisms that are behind amino acids’ natural variation in order to find genes that would allow us to improve—genetically—our crop seeds,” she says.
Angelovici says she originally wanted to be a veterinarian and worked as an assistant vet during her undergraduate years but says she could not stand to see animals suffer.
“Plants have fascinated me forever, and then I started getting involved in plant genetics, and it was amazing,” she says. “Plants are very good models to work with, and people, in general, don’t realize how important plants are to our everyday lives. Corn, for example, is in everything—even in your toothpaste. This work fills me with a purpose in that if we succeed, we might make an impact on some food product.”
Angelovici received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in plant sciences from Tel Aviv University and her Ph.D. degree in plant sciences from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science from 2009-2010 and at Michigan State University from 2010 to 2015.
Written by: Jordan Yount
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