Member, Whitehead Institute

Jing-Ke Weng

The Weng Lab probes the evolution of plant metabolism, and the mechanistic basis for the healing properties of plants used in world traditional medicine.

Image
Jing-Ke Weng standing in his lab.

455 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

617.324.4921
wengj@wi.mit.edu

Achievements & Honors

Arnold Kent Balls Award for Outstanding Graduate Student in Research (2008)
PULSe Outstanding Graduate Student in Research Award (2009)
Pioneer Postdoctoral Fellowship (2011)
Tansley Medal (2013)
ASPB Early Career Award (2014)
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences (2014)
Searle Scholar Award (2015)
Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (2016)
Beckman Young Investigator (2016)
Scialog Fellow (2018)
Smith Family Foundation: Odyssey Award (2018)

Affiliations

Member, Whitehead Institute
Associate Professor of Biology, MIT

Question

How do diverse metabolic traits evolve in plants? How to harness the healing power of medicinal plants using cutting-edge biotechnologies?

Approach

Early plants began colonizing earth approximately 450 million years ago. To survive in a challenging terrestrial environment, plants have greatly exploited their metabolic systems to produce a panoply of natural chemicals as unique adaptive strategies under myriad ecological pressures. It is likely that specialized phytochemicals, such as those that attract pollinators and seed dispersers or deter pathogens and herbivores, reshape the interdependencies and diversity of plant ecosystems forming the base of the global food chain. Using model plants that represent several major lineages of land plants, Weng and his lab are studying how complex metabolic traits evolve. 

Certain botanicals produced by these processes have been used medicinally for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, herbs are prescribed in cocktails thought to be more effective than any single ingredient.  Weng is employing combinatorial approaches—from metabolomics to genomics to protein biochemistry and structural biology—to determine the mechanisms underlying this cooperative effect. Such an approach could yield a better understanding of complex disease biology at a systems level while informing the development of novel, personalized therapeutic combinations.

Weng is also using plants as models for studying diseases caused by protein misfolding. To function properly, proteins must maintain precise shapes within the crowded confines of cells. In a number of human diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, misfolded proteins clump together, becoming toxic to the cells in which they’re produced. Weng is investigating whether plants’ specialized metabolic systems have ways of ameliorating the pathogenic effects of misshapen proteins.

Bio

Weng joined the Whitehead Institute faculty in the fall of 2013, having conducted postdoctoral research with Dr. Joseph Noel at the Salk Institute. He earned his PhD in biochemistry from Purdue University in the lab of Clint Chapple, and earned a BS in biotechnology from Zhejiang University.
 

Selected publications

PMID:

22745420
Jing-Ke Weng, Ryan N Philippe, Joseph P Noel
Roland D Kersten, Shoukou Lee, Daishi Fujita, Tomáš Pluskal, Susan Kram, Jennifer E Smith, Takahiro Iwai, Joseph P Noel, Makoto Fujita, Jing-Ke Weng