Spring Lecture Series 2021 Detail

Carotenoids: the true colors of crop improvement

Speaker:  Juan Moreno Beltran

Research Scientist, Bioactives Lab, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST

On Zoom



Climate change affects soil properties and the atmospheric conditions of our planet, causing dryness and salinity in the soil, and ultimately impacting crops and food production. Together with the concomitant increasing world population, this will have a direct impact on food demand and require a sustainable increase in crop productivity.

In this talk, I will describe a single gene manipulation in carotenoid biosynthesis genes that enhances pro-vitamin A content, photosynthesis, photoprotection, abiotic stress tolerance (high light, salt, drought), biomass, and yield in the model plant tobacco; and in one of the most important food crops worldwide, tomato. Because carotenoid pathway is present in all plants, our findings serve as a solid ground to design the next generation of super crops able to cope with climate change-related environmental issues, enhanced nutritional content (pro-vitamin A), and crop productivity.


About the Speaker:

Juan C. Moreno is a molecular biologist and biotechnologist in KAUST’s BioActives Lab, focused on the study of plastid isoprenoid pathways. He holds an undergraduate degree in molecular biotechnology engineering and a graduate degree in plant molecular biology from the Universidad de Chile, with studies focused on carotenoid metabolism and regulation in bacteria, carrot, and tobacco. He obtained his PhD degree in molecular plant physiology in the laboratory of Prof. Ralph Bock in the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany, where he worked on plastid protein degradation machinery and characterized the function and substrates of the Clp and FtsH proteases, and their impact in plant physiology and development in tobacco plants.

Subsequently, he worked in Prof. Lothar Willmitzer’s laboratory in the small signaling molecules group led by Dr. Aleksandra Skirycz. His research in protein-metabolite interactions led to the discovery of a novel interaction between glycolytic enzymes (glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate-dehydrogenase and phosphoglycerate kinase) and dipeptides (Tyr-Asp and Ser-Leu) in plants and yeast, respectively, opening a new emergent field of study by proposing dipeptides as promising regulatory molecules of different cellular processes. In parallel, he returned to his original pursuits and developed his own research line into carotenoid biosynthesis and regulation, proposing a novel single-gene genetic approach (using the lycopene β-cyclase gene from carrot) to enhance photosynthesis, yield, and stress tolerance. By using nuclear and plastid DNA transformation and RNAi silencing strategies coupled with a multi-OMICs approach, he further proved his hypothesis (Moreno* et al., 2020; Koessler, (…), Moreno* et. al., 2021; Moreno* et al., 2021). In 2020, his research was recognized by the scientific community, appearing on the cover of The Plant Journal (vol. 103:6) and in a research highlight. Most recently, and in order to fully prove that his strategy is conserved in all plants, he exported his technology to one of the most important crops worldwide (tomato), obtaining very promising results.

In future years, Juan C. Moreno would like to explore how plants produce different secondary metabolites at different time points of their life cycle by studying metabolon (multi-enzymatic complexes) formation and substrate channeling in isoprenoid pathways, and by generating a Protein-protein/protein-Metabolite interaction map (ProMetIM). He would also like to continue his quest for the development of a new generation of super crops (e.g., tomato, rice, and sorghum, with enhanced photosynthetic efficiency, yield, stress tolerance, and nutritional content) that are more resilient to climate change, and are able to meet the expected increase in food demand for 2050.  


Juan Moreno Beltran

Research Scientist, Bioactives Lab, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST

Event Quick Information

28 Jan, 2021
07:00 PM - 08:30 PM
Online Event