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Pack-MULEs are toting a new look at plant evolution

EAST LANSING, Mich. It's not too often you pick up a scientific journal to dig into a good mystery.

Ning Jiang et al. admittedly aren't going to give Agatha Christie a run for her money, yet in the Sept. 30 edition of the British science journal Nature, the article explores some surprising unexplored territory in the world of evolutionary biology.

"Pack-MULEs: transposable elements mediate gene evolution in plants" may sound like a western lost in the science fiction section, but it elevates a little-considered group of elements in the genome sequence to potentially major players in the process of evolution. It also throws out tantalizing possibilities that could turn some standard methodology on its ear.

"Even a lot of my colleagues say they don't understand my article," says Jiang, who one month ago left a post doc at the University of Georgia to take a faculty position at Michigan State University's horticulture department. "I'm looking at something people don't pay much attention to."

But not only did Jiang find a new way to look at genomic sequences a scientist's treasure map but she's also provided a refreshing testament to how personal and creative even the most dense and high-tech sciences can be.

Jiang is a native of China who entered science with a personal link to her area of study the genomic sequence of rice. Rice isn't just a plant with a sequenced genome that's comparatively manageable. Rice also has been a strong thread which runs through her life.

"Rice is the most important food for me; nothing else can replace it," Jiang said. "In the first 15 years of my life, the rice straw was the major fuel for us to cook our food."

Jiang studies transposable elements the "jumping genes" of plants. The genome sequence is in a certain order. Change the order of the genetic material and a function can be changed. Transposable elements are sort of the rowdy kids in a classroom their insertion ma
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Contact: Ning Jiang
jiangn@msu.edu
517-355-5191
Michigan State University
29-Sep-2004


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