Shale barren rock cress is found only on the rocky shale barrens flanking the Shenandoah River. It is an endangered species. The specimen to the left is shown in its natural habitat (WV-DNR, Donna Mitchell), the one below was grown in a greenhouse and is our research material. The laboratory is aiming to preserve and study the genome. Genomic tools, such as microsatellite DNAs, will be used to look into the natural history of the many small isolated populations found in West Virginia. An understanding of how the species is distributed may suggest measures to promote a natural recovery of the population.
Another member of the Brassicaceae family that research students are studying is mouse ear cress, the model system for plant molecular biologists. The DNA sequence of its small genome has been known for over a decade and a large and growing body of genetic and molecular studies has provided the beginnings of a complete understanding of a plant and its genes. Our laboratory is looking at one mutant that has a first leaf pair with yellow necrotic tissue at the leaf tips. The photo compares the wild-type plant to the mutant (lower half), the first leaf pair pointing 10:00 to 4:00 shows necrotic leaf tips. Using molecular biology, genomic, and biochemical techniques, the laboratory aims to identify the mutated gene and learn how it contributes to the functioning of the important sunlight harvesting organ.
More recently, students have been investigating the inheritance and expressivity of the well-studied vestigial wing gene of fruit flies. The new interest here is a change in mutant phenotype from a crinkled, short, and stubby wing to one that is flat, narrow, and long.