Hutchinson Center receives $1.2 million from National Science Foundation to study plant genetics

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has received a $1.2 million first-year grant from the National Science Foundation to implement a new strategy for obtaining plants with desirable genetic mutations. The strategy, called TILLING, will be applied to genes of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering member of the mustard family used as a model system for plant genetic studies.

Using the TILLING method, researchers will induce and analyze mutations rapidly and on a large scale without introducing genetically modified material into the organism. Applying the TILLING strategy to agriculturally important plants may let scientists identify mutations that produce desirable changes, says project leader Steven Henikoff, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division. A Hutchinson Center graduate student in Henikoff's lab, Claire McCallum, developed the TILLING method.

Collaborating on the project is co-investigator Luca Comai, Ph.D., an associate professor of botany at the University of Washington. Comai will provide plant molecular biology expertise and greenhouse space for the 10,000 Arabidopsis plants needed for the intitial project setup. The work will be performed at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, which will host the project through the Hutchinson Center.

"All flowering plants are very closely related evolutionarily, and therefore in DNA sequence," Henikoff says. Therefore, what is learned about Arabidopsis will benefit studies of all plants.

While Arabidopsis might seem a curious organism to be found at a cancer research center, Henikoff expects TILLING to be useful for inducing genetic mutations in other organisms, including mice and the roundworm C. elegans, both model systems used at the Hutchinson Center to study the basic mechanisms of cancer.

The basic strategy for TILLING in Arabidopsis involves exposing the plant seeds to a chemical that induces point mutations, or single-base changes, in the plant's D

Contact: Kristen Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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