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Maria Pena
Associate Research Scientist

Synthesis, structure and function of plant cell wall polysaccharides

Telephone: 706-542-4419
Fax: 706-542-4412

Short Biography
Research Interests

Short Biography:
Dr. Peña received her B.S. in Biology in 1989 and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Biology in 1994 and 1996, respectively, from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). She joined the group of Dr. Carpita at the University of Purdue (West Lafayette, IN) and worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow in fruit ripening and plant growth from 1998 to 2002. She joined the group of Dr. York at the CCRC in 2003 and is now an Assistant Research Scientist. Dr. Peña has 27 full publications, 1 book charter and 1 patent.

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Research Interests:
Dr. Peña’s research focuses on plant cell wall polysaccharide synthesis, structure and function. This research involves the application of advance mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy techniques for the determination of polysaccharide structure, functional characterization of carbohydrate-active enzymes and protein-carbohydrate interactions. Main current research projects are:

  • Synthesis of plant cell wall hemicelluloses, in particular xylan and xyloglucan, which, after cellulose, are the most abundant polysaccharides produced by vascular plants. Our recent work established the specific biochemical roles of three enzymes responsible for methylation, acetylation and backbone elongation of xylan, which is the third most abundant glycopolymer on earth and one of the major components of plant cell walls. The Identification of these and other enzymes involved in hemicelluloses synthesis is a critical step toward targeted modification of plant cell walls by genetic manipulation of their biosynthesis. The ultimate goal of this work is to generate modified polysaccharides and plant cell walls with improved properties that can be used as renewable sources of biofuels and bio-inspired materials.
  • Understanding specific relationships between the structures of plant cell wall polysaccharides and their functions in plant growth and development. The structures of non-cellulosic wall polysaccharides vary depending plant species, tissue and developmental stage. Our work has resulted in significant contributions to understanding the biological implications of structural diversity of cell wall polysaccharides in land plants. This includes characterization of more than ten novel xyloglucan and xylan side-chain structures. Although the contributions of these structures to the biological functions of the cell walls into which they are deposited are still poorly understood, our research is making progress in this context. For example, we recently discovered a unique acidic xyloglucan sidechain in root hairs that appears to be required for normal tip growth, which is characteristic of this type of cells. Our current focus is the discovery of additional structure/function relationships in order to better understand plant growth, development, adaptation to different habitats, and evolution.

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Publications: Author's Last Name: Pena

Journal Articles
Book Chapters are listed at the bottom of this page.

MJ Soto, K Prabahkar, D Gopaldas, C Ruprecht, I Black, M Pena, F Pfrengle, K Moremen, B Urbanowicz, MG Hahn. 2021. AtFUT4 and AtFUT6: Biochemically Redundant Arabinogalactan Protein-Specific Fucosyltransferases . Frontiers in Plant Science-Plant Glycobiology : -.

V Bharadwaj, MF Crowley, MJ Pena, B Urbanowicz, M O'Neill. 2020. Mechanism and Reaction Energy Landscape for Apiose Cross-linking by Boric Acid in Rhamnogalacturonan II. The Journal of Physical Chemistry Nov 12;124 (45): 10117-10125. PMID:33112619

PK Prabhakar, HT Wang, PJ Smith, JY Yang, WJ Barnes, MJ Pena, KW Moremen, BR Urbanowicz. 2020. Heterologous expression of plant glycosyltransferases for biochemistry and structural biology. Methods in Cell Biology. Methods Cell Biol 160: 145-165. PMID:32896313

PS Smith, MJ Pena, WS York, BR Urbanowicz. 2020. Analytical Techniques for Determining the Role of Domain of Unknown Function 579 Proteins in the Synthesis of O-Methylated Plant Polysaccharides. Slas Technol Aug;25(4): 345-355. PMID:32204644

V Lunin, HT Wang, VS Bharadwaj, P Alahuhta, MJ Pena, JY Yang, SA Archer-Hartmann, PA Azadi, ME Himmel, KW Moremen, WS York, YJ Bomble, BR Urbanowicz. 2020. Molecular mechanism of polysaccharide acetylation by the AtXOAT1 xylan O-acetyltransferase. Plant Cell Jul;32(7): 2367-2382. PMID:32354790

M O'Neill, I Black, B Urbanowicz, V Bharadwaj, M Crowley, S Koj, M Pena. 2020. Locating Methyl-Etherified and Methyl-Esterified Uronic Acids in the Plant Cell Wall Pectic Polysaccharide Rhamnogalacturonan II. SLAS Technology Aug;25(4): 329-344. PMID:32468908

J Yang, G Bak, T Burgin, WJ Barnes, H Mayes, MJ Pena, B Urbanowicz, E Nielsen. 2020. Biochemical and Genetic Analysis Identify CSLD3 as a Novel β-1,4-glucan Synthase that Functions during Plant Cell Wall Synthesis . Plant Cell May;32(5): 1749-1767. PMID:32169960

V Lunin, HT Wang, V Bharadwaj, PM Alahuhta, MJ Pena, JY Yang, SA Archer-Hartmann, P Azadi, M Himmel, KW Moremen, WS York, YJ Bomble, B Urbanowicz. 2020. Molecular mechanism of polysaccharide acetylation by the Arabidopsis xylan O-acetyltransferase XOAT1. Plant Cell 32(7): 2367-2382. PMID:32354790

JK Jensen, M Busse-Wicher, CP Poulsen, JU Fangel, PJ Smith, JY Yang, M-J Pena, MH Dinesen, HJ Martens, M Melkonian, GK Wong, KW Moremen, CG Wilkerson, HV Scheller, P Dupree, P Ulvskov, BR Urbanowicz, J Harholt. 2018. Identification of an algal xylan synthase KfXYS1 proves that there is functional orthology between algal and plant cell wall biosynthesis. New Phytologist 218: 1049-1060. PMID:29460505

S Sopena-Torres, L Jorda, C Sanchez-Rodriguez, E Miedes, V Escudero, G Lopez, M Pislewska-Bednarek, J Lee, Y Gu, S Haigis, D Alexander, S Pattathil, P Bednarek, S Somerville, P Schulze-Lefert, MG Hahn, D Scheel, A Molina. 2018. YODA MAP3K kinase regulates plant immune responses conferring broad-spectrum disease resistance. New Phytologist 218: 661-680. PMID:29451312

S Sopena-Torres, L Jorda, C Sanchez-Rodriguez, E Miedes, V Escudero, G Lopez, M Pislewska-Bednarek, J Lee, Y Gu, S Haigis, D Alexander, S Pattathil, P Bednarek, S Somerville, P Schulze-Lefert, MG Hahn, D Scheel, A Molina. 2017. YODA, a MAP3K, regulates broad-spectrum plant disease resistance through a non-canonical pathway. Plant Cell In Press: -.

RP de Vries, W Peng, O Grant, A Thompson, X Zhu, K Bouwman, A Torrents de la Pena, M van Breemen, I Ambepitiya, C de Haan, W Yu, R McBride, R Sanders, RJ Woods, M Verheije, I Wilson, J Paulson. 2017. Three mutations switch H7N9 influenza to human-type receptor specificity. PLoS Pathogens 13(6): e1006390-. PMID:28617868

B.R. Urbanowicz, V.S. Bharadwaj, M. Alahuhta, M.J. Pena, V.V. Lunin, Y.J. Bomble, S. Wang, J.Y. Yang, S.T. Tuomivaara, M.E. Himmel, K.W. Moremen, W.S. York, M.F. Crowley. 2017. Structural, mutagenic and in silico studies of xyloglucan fucosylation in Arabidopsis thaliana suggest a water-mediated mechanism. Plant J. 91: 931-949. PMID:28670741

P.J. Smith, H.T. Wang, W.S. York, M.J. Pena, B.R. Urbanowicz. 2017. Designer biomass for next-generation biorefineries: Leveraging recent insights into xylan structure and biosynthesis. Biotechnol. Biofuels 10: 286-286. PMID:29213325

J.D. Willis, J.A. Smith, M. Mazarei, J.Y. Zhang, G.B. Turner, S.R. Decker, R.W. Sykes, C.R. Poovaiah, H.L. Baxter, D.G.J. Mann, M.F. Davis, M.K. Udvardi, M.J. Pena, J. Backe, M. Bar-Peled, C.N. Stewart Jr.. 2016. Downregulation of a UDP-arabinomutase gene in Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) results in incrased cell wall lignin while reducing arabinose-glycans. Frontiers Plant Sci. 7: 1-18. PMID:27833622

M.J. Pena, A.R. Kulkarni, J. Backe, M. Boyd, M.A. O'Neill, W.S. York. 2016. Structural diversity of xylans in the cell walls of monocots. Planta 244: 589-606. PMID:27105886

AC Muszynski, MA O'Neill, E Ramasamy, S Pattathil, U Avci, MJ Pena, M Libault, MS Hossain, L Brechenmacher, WS York, RM Barbosa, MG Hahn, G Stacey, RW Carlson. 2015. Xyloglucan, galactomannan, glucuronoxylan, and rhamnogalacturonan, I do not have identical structures in soybean root and root hair cell walls. Planta 242(5): 1123-1138. PMID:26067758

A.C. Srivastava, F. Chen, T. Ray, S. Pattathil, M.J. Pena, U. Avci, H. Li, D.V. Huhman, J. Backe, B. Urbanowicz, J.S. Miller, M. Bedair, C.E. Wyman, L.W. Sumner, W.S. York, M.G. Hahn, R.A. Dixon, E.B. Blancaflor, Y. Tang. 2015. Loss of function of folylpolyglutamate synthetase 1 reduces lignin content and improves cell wall digestibility in Arabidopsis. Biotechnol. Biofuels 8: 224-. PMID:26697113

F. Cuskin, E.C. Lowe, M.J. Temple, Y. Zhu, E.A. Cameron, N.A. Pudio, N.T. Porter, K. Urs, A.J. Thompson, A. Cartmell, A. Rogowski, B.S. Hamilton, R. Chen, T.J. Tolbert, K. Piens, D. Bracke, W. Vervecken, Z. Hakki, G. Speciale, C.J. Munoz-Munoz, A. Day, M.J. Pena, R. McLean, M.D. Suits, A.B. Boraston, T. Atherly, C.J. Ziemer, S.J. Williams, G.J. Davies, D.W. Abbott, E.C. Martens, H. Gilbert. 2015. human gut bacteroidetes can utilize yeast mannan through a selfish mechanism. Nature 517: 165-169. PMID:25567280

Y. Kong, M.J. Pena, L. Renna, U. Avci, S. Pattathil, S.T. Tuomivaara, X. Li, W.-D. Reiter, F. Brandizzi, M.G. Hahn, A.G. Darvill, W.S. York, M.A. O'Neill. 2015. Galactose-depleted xyloglucan is dysfunctional and leads to dwarfism in Arabidopsis. Plant Physiol. 167: 1296-1306. PMID:25673778

B.R. Urbanowicz, M.J. Pena, H.A. Moniz, K.W. Moremen, W.S. York. 2014. Two Arabidopsis proteins synthesize acetylated xylan in vitro. Plant J. 80: 197-206. PMID:25141999

A. Kulkarni, M.J. Pena, U. Avci, K. Mazumder, B. Urbanowicz, S. Pattathil, Y. Yin, M.A. ONeill, A.W. Roberts, M.G. Hahn, Y. Xu, A.G. Darvill, W.A. York. 2012. The ability of land plants to synthesize glucoronoxylans predates the evolution of tracheophytes. Glycobiology 22: 439-451. PMID:22048859

L.S. McKee, M.J. Pena, A. Rogowski, K.A. Jackson, R.J. Lewis, W.S. York, K.B.R.M. Krogh, A. Vikso-Nielsen, M. Skjot, H.J. Gilbert, J. Marles-Wright. 2012. Introducing endo-xylanase activity into an exo-acting arabinofuranosidase that targets side chains. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 6537-6542. PMID:22492980

M.J. Pena, Y. Kong, W.S. York, M ONeill. 2012. A galacturonic acid-containing xyloglucan is involved in Arabidopsis root hair tip growth. Plant Cell 24: 4511-4524. PMID:23175743

M.J. Pena, S.T. Tuomivaara, B.R. Urbanowicz, M.A. ONeill, W.S. York. 2012. Methods for structural characterization of the products of cellulose- and xyloglucan-hydrolyzing enzymes. Methods Enzymol. 510: 121-139. PMID:22608724

B.R. Urbanowicz, M.J. Pena, S. Ratnaparkhe, U. Avci, J. Backe, H.F. Steet, M. Foston, H. Li, M.A. O'Neill, A.J. Ragauskas, A.G. Darvill, C. Wyman, H.J. Gilbert, W.S. York. 2012. 4-O-Methylation of glucuronic acid in Arabidopsis glucuronoxylan is catalyzed by a domain of unknown function family 579 protein. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 14253-14258. PMID:22893684

K. Mazumder, M.J. Pena, M.A. O'Neill, W.S. York. 2012. Structural characterization of the heteroxylans from poplar and switchgrass. Methods Mol. Biol. 908: 215-228. PMID:22843402

M. Gunl, L. Neumetzier, F. Kraemer, A. de, A. Schultink, M.J. Pena, W.S. York, M. Pauly. 2011. AZY8 encodes an alpha-fucosidase, underscoring the importance of apoplastic metabolism on the fine structure of Arabidopsis cell wall polysaccharides. Plant Cell 23: 4025-4040. PMID:22080600

A. Cartmell, L.S. McKee, M.J. Pena, J. Larsbring, H. Brumer, S. Kaneko, H. Ichinose, R.J. Lewis, A. Vikso-Nielsen, H.J. Gilbert, J. Marles-Wright. 2011. The structure and function of an arabinan-specific alpha-fucosidase, underscoring the importance of apoplastic metabolism on the fine structure of Arabidopsis cell wall polysaccharides. J. Biol. Chem. 286: 15483-15495. PMID:21339299

M.J. Pena, A.G. Darvill, S. Eberhard, W.S. York, M.A. ONeill. 2008. Moss and liverwort xyloglucans contain galacturonic acid and are structurally distinct from the xyloglucans synthesized by horn. Glycobiology 18: 891-904. PMID:18703646

M.J. Pena, R. Zhong, G.K. Zhou, E.A. Richardson, M.A. ONeill, A.G. Darvill, W.S. York, Z.H. Ye. 2007. Arabidopsis irregulat xylem8 and irregular xylem9: implications for the complexity of glucuronoxylan biosynthesis. Plant Cell 19: 549-563. PMID:17322407

M. Hoffman, Z. Jia, M.J. Pena, M. Cash, A. Harper, A.R. Blackburn, A. Darvill, W.S. York. 2005. Structural analysis of xyloglucans in the primary cell walls of plants in the subclass Asteridae. Carbohydr. Res. 340: 1826-1840. PMID:15975566

Book Chapters

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