On a daily basis, most of us do not think about the crops that our food comes from. And yet, the importance of commercial crop studies cannot be overstated, especially for human health. Without the crucial genetic mapping resources developed by Prof. Edward Buckler, plant breeding and genetics, these studies would be impossible. As a geneticist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Buckler is in a unique position to manage a variety of national resources to lead such studies. These efforts culminated in a Washington, D.C. ceremony in April, where Buckler was awarded the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agricultural Studies.
What if Mendel never wondered about how pea plants inherited characteristics? What if Rosalind Franklin was never curious about the structure of the odd new molecule DNA? What if the Curies never asked how radioactivity worked? The world today would have been very different, indeed. Barry Stoddard, the speaker at this week’s Seminar Series hosted by the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, emphasized this undeniable importance of curiosity in fuelling research.
At Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health, groundbreaking horse health research is not surprising but standard. Such is the tone with which Prof. Doug Antczak ’69, animal science, refers to various scientific feats that have emerged from the 66-year-old facility, although the professor mentions the endeavors of his predecessors before his own work. Regardless, Antczak, in collaboration with colleagues from Cornell University, the University of Glasgow, Iowa State University and the University of Florida, recently published findings from a research project of their own. The team proposed that genetic differences in horse species could allow for papillomavirus-induced sarcoid (skin) tumors to grow in some horses and not others. This papillomavirus is similar to one found in humans, known as Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and the group’s findings could shed light on whether certain people are more susceptible to the virus and subsequently the cervical cancer it causes.
For a fruit, tomatoes are strangely ubiquitous, appearing in everything from ketchup to BLT sandwiches. In fact, the average American eats about 23 pounds of tomatoes each year, with half of the weight located in tomato sauce. When Sarah Refi Hind, a research associate at Boyce Thompson Institute, began work as an undergraduate, she became intrigued by the fruit and began research involving tomato defense against insects. Why did Hind choose to study the tomato? Part of the intrigue of tomatoes is that, unlike most plants used in research, they are not weeds.
Warblers are small, perching, singing birds that may seem similar to one another to the untrained eye and ear. But for David Toews, a postdoctoral researcher at the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program of Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, these colorful woodland birds are anything but similar. In particular, one specific species of warbler can actually be differentiated into three separate species — a breakthrough that spells out a slew of new knowledge and questions in our understanding of genomics and conservation. In a study entitled “Genomic variation across the Yellow-rumped Warbler species complex” published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, the Yellow-rumped warbler, affectionately called the “butterbutt” warbler, has been subject to new genomic analysis methods that have confirmed the species to be three closely related species. These grey, yellow streaked warblers are migratory, insect-eating birds that spend their summers in the boreal forests of North America and winters in the southern U.S. and Central America.
Between the cracks in the sidewalk sprouts a thin, green stem with fragile white flowers. It is overlooked by the masses of people who walk past it each day. Unknown to these individuals, however, is the significance of the Arabidopsis plant within the scientific community. In her lab, Prof. Adrienne Roeder, a Nancy M. and Samuel C. Fleming Term Assistant Professor at the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, uses the Arabidopsis sepal as a model system to study the spatial and temporal development of cells. Sepals are the part of the plant that encloses the flower.
Imagine having the ability to edit the mutations out of your own genes. Genetic diseases like Huntington’s, Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis would become a thing of the past; this ability would change the face of medicine. The potential applications of gene editing are far-reaching — and new research from Cornell might get us closer to making these applications a reality. A recent study may have uncovered another mechanism of a new gene editing technique. Prof. Ailong Ke, molecular biology and genetics, has been leading research on the structure of Type I Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) systems, which have the potential to be more specific than current gene editing techniques.
A war on the ownership of the greatest biological discovery of the decade is quickly exposing the ruthless side of science, which often maintains a veneer of cheerful collaboration. No sooner had we begun to faithfully write six as the last digit in our notebooks, the year itself promised to be an important one for the fate of gene editing. In early January, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted a motion of interference in a case of the Broad Institute at MIT vs. the University of California, Berkeley, and set up a winner-take-all legal showdown regarding patents for CRISPR, a technology worth billions of dollars, expected to revolutionize science and win a Nobel Prize. All of this is up for grabs, and likely, by the end of the year — intense, right? So let’s rewind — how did we get here?
Cornell researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine have recently published the largest genetic study of dogs to ever be completed. Adam Boyko, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, is the senior author of the paper. He said this study would not have been possible without the Cornell Veterinary Biobank, a collection of samples that includes the DNA of over 10,000 dogs from around the world. “It’s a really great resource for research,” Boyko said. “If you need to get sample sizes that are beyond the capabilities of your lab, you can use the resources that [the biobank] has and much more quickly scale up studies to help you make discoveries.”
Because the researchers had access to the biobank’s samples, they were able to design a study that was vastly different from most genetic analyses of dogs, according to Boyko.