Craig Schluttenhofer
Post-Doctoral Scientist


M.S. (2011): Plant Pathology, Purdue University
B.S. (2009): Horticulture Science,Plant Genetics and Breeding, Purdue University

Additional Information

Research Interests

Catharanthus roseus is a small plant of the Apocynaceae family native to Madagascar with white, pink, or red flowers. Catharanthus, also called Annual Vinca or Madagascar Periwinkle, is important to two major United States markets. As an ornamental, Catharanthus is known for its showy flowers, near continuous bloom time, exceptional drought and heat tolerance, and resistance to most all pests and pathogens. Disease and insect resistance of Catharanthus is, in part, due to the presence of terpene indole alkaloids (TIAs). TIAs are a class of nitrogen containing compounds composed of an indole ring and monoterpene moiety. Catharanthus produces over 140 different TIA of which several are only produced by the small 8-member Catharanthus genus and are valuable as pharmaceutical drugs. The TIAs ajmalicine and serpentine produced by Catharanthus are used in the treatment of hypertension. Vinblastine and vincristine are two TIA produced only by Catharanthus which are used in the treatment of various types of cancer. Importantly, both the ornamental and pharmaceutical drugs markets for Catharanthus require the complex regulation and production TIAs. My research is focused around understanding the transcriptional regulation of secondary metabolism, with a focus on the regulation of TIAs. Recently our lab was first to characterize the role of a WRKY transcription factor in the regulation of Catharanthus TIAs. WRKY transcription factors are DNA-binding proteins with a WRKY domain. The WRKY domain contains a highly conserved WRKYGQK motif and a zinc finger region. In many species WRKY transcription factors play critical or essential roles in the regulation of abiotic and biotic stress tolerance. As biotic stress tolerance to insects and pathogens is often accompanied by altered secondary metabolism the WRKY transcription factor family a potentially rich source of regulators of TIA accumulation. My primary focus is on identifying and characterizing additional Catharanthus WRKY transcription factors involved in TIA regulation. The recently available Catharanthus transcriptome has allowed for the use of genomic and bioinformatic approaches to rapidly advance our knowledge of Catharanthus regulatory genes. Using the model system Arabidopsis thaliana genome and available literature translational research is being performed to better understand the regulation of Catharanthus TIAs by the phytohormone jasmonate. The transcriptome sequencing of many other medicinal plants along side Catharanthus has provided the opportunity for comparative biology to extend the existing knowledge of Catharanthus to plants with no information regarding secondary metabolite regulation. Collectively these methods have allowed for the identification of candidate genes and gene networks which are promising for secondary metabolite regulation. Standard molecular biology techniques are then applied to validate candidate genes in TIA regulation and accumulation. This research will further our understanding of TIA regulation with the expectation of eventually identifying a master regulator of alkaloid production which can be manipulated to improve pharmaceutical chemical production and plant disease resistance.