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Franziska Turck, PhD, is a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany. Dr. Turck’s group studies the interplay of DNA-binding transcription factors and chromatin structuring complexes in the orchestration of gene expression. In particular, the group studies the regulation of key developmental genes, which are mostly under the control of repressive chromatin complexes. Dr. Turck and her team recently published the paper “Fast isogenic mapping-by-sequencing of EMS-induced mutant bulks” in Plant Physiology and introduced deep candidate resequencing (dCARE) using the Ion PGM™ Sequencer to their mutant identification pipeline. 

We asked Dr. Turck several questions about her plant research paper and plant science in general. She was happy to provide us with a full length interview here. She will also be discussing this subject in more detail in a live free weninar on December 5, 2012 at 8:00 am PT/5:00 pm CET. Register for the webinar here

When asked if she could tell us about the goal of the plant science work described in the article she said, "In plants, induced mutagenesis provides a magnificent tool to elucidate new components in any regulatory pathway. For our particular case, there is a mystery still to be solved around a chromatin factor called LHP1 (LIKE-HETEROCHROMATIN PROTEIN 1), which should have much stronger effects on plant development if mutated than it actually has. This implies that there are some undiscovered redundancies or compensatory pathways. As Arabidopsis geneticists, an obvious approach for us was to initiate a suppressor/enhancer screen. In such a screen we use the original mutant, already defective in LHP1, and hit it again with a chemical mutagen. Among the offspring of these plants, we identify individuals that are either worse off than the parental mutant or look more like a nonmutant plant. The goal is to identify the causative genes and study their connection to LHP1."

We also asked her why this goal was important and who would benefit from this work. We wanted to learn more about why this research would matter to plant breeders, farmers and others in the plant sciences industry. She said, "The results are interesting from a purely mechanistic point of view because, as mentioned above, there is still a mystery around this. As the pathways we are working on are conserved in insects, humans, and plants, we may uncover something new in plants with corresponding implications for other species. There are many examples of this cross-fertilization between fields in the past. In animals, “our” pathway is highly relevant for stem cell research.

In plants, this pathway controls genes that are important for the correct seasonal timing of flowering. Mutant plants that are defective in the pathway are not so interesting for breeding purposes, because they have lost the ability to delay the expression of flower-promoting genes, which are usually only turned on after the perception of inductive environmental signals. However, we are interested in the detailed “how” of LHP1 and its effect on gene control.

As we learn more about this, we become able to turn a few screws in the process. For example, we can make flower-promoting genes more or less sensitive to external signals. Being able to subtly change such environmental responses can have tremendous impact on breeding in the context of a changing environment. Even better, we can predict effects on naturally occurring mutations, which are immediately useful for breeding."

Read the full interview with Dr. Turck or register for the webinar to learn more about the deep sequencing workflow for plant sciences.