James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

July 12, 2011

Even today, cloning a gene is celebrated event

Filed under: Uncategorized — James @ 4:24 pm

“Back in my day,” countless middle aged professors have said, “if you cloned a gene in grad school, that was it, you were done and graduated.”

Well times change, and cloning a gene isn’t quite as hard as it used to be. But don’t let the nostalgia a lot of old school geneticsts give off fool you into thinking identifying the gene responsible for some interesting mutant phenotype isn’t still a big deal.

Here are the three most recent papers I can think of off the top of my head reporting the cloning of maize mutants:

1. Myers A. M., James M. G., Lin Q., Yi G., Stinard P. S., Hennen-Bierwagen T. A., Becraft P. W., 2011 Maize opaque5 Encodes Monogalactosyldiacylglycerol Synthase and Specifically Affects Galactolipids Necessary for Amyloplast and Chloroplast Function. The Plant Cell Online.
2. Gallavotti A., Malcomber S., Gaines C., Stanfield S., Whipple C., Kellogg E., Schmidt R. J., 2011  BARREN STALK FASTIGIATE1 Is an AT-Hook Protein Required for the Formation of Maize Ears. The Plant Cell Online 23: 1756 -1771.
3. Sharma M., Cortes-Cruz M., Ahern K. R., McMullen M., Brutnell T. P., Chopra S., 2011  Identification of the Pr1 Gene Product Completes the Anthocyanin Biosynthesis Pathway of Maize. Genetics 188: 69 -79.
Two papers in The Plant Cell, which is probably the most prestigious plant specific journal out there, and one in genetics, where the cloning of a maize gene made the cover of a journal read by sciences who study everything from yeast to fruitflies to human beings.
Now what goes into a “we just cloned a gene!” paper has increased. You can’t just report the sequence of the gene, you need to do the hard work of beginning to figure out what the gene is actually doing on a molecular level to create a weird looking mutant corn plant. And you’ll probably need to pull together a couple of follow-up papers to turn your newly cloned gene into a PhD. But even today, with a (mostly) complete genome sequence to make identifying the mutations responsible for weird looking corn plants a whole lot easier, the contribution each newly cloned gene makes to our understanding of corn, of plants, and of biology as a whole, is too significant to be treated as anything less than a great accomplishment.

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