Recorded: 20 Feb 2001
Well, we do a lot of different things that focus around the concept of genetics. If I had to describe the general concept I'd say something like this: that we're interested in the impact of genome organization and gene expression and plant development. And if that sounds like the title to McClintock's 1951 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium paper, that's no accident - it is! It's something that's been fascinating people for a long time. It's been very difficult to study up till now, but now that we have the complete genome sequences and a much greater understanding of the way in which gene expression is controlled, we can start to readdress that problem. You can come at it from two different points of view as a geneticist. You can either—as a geneticist—look for mutations that impact certain areas of plant development that you think might be relevant, or you can look at the genome as a whole and ask questions about how the genome is changing under certain perturbations, both genetic and physical. And, actually, those two types of experiment have come together very satisfyingly, especially in the last year or so, and we're now working with a set of mutations that affect plant development in a particular way and we now know that they also affect genome organization in a particular way. And now that we can see the whole genome, of Arabidopsis at least, we can start to ask questions about what impact that really is having on gene expression. So it's a really exciting time.
Rob Martienssen is a plant molecular geneticist and professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1986 and did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.
As a young scientist, he worked closely with Barbara McClintock. He currently studies plant epigenetics and development using functional genomics. He was awarded the Kumho International Science Award in Plant Biology and Biotechnology (2001).