Inside Salk - October 2008 - page 8

COVER STORY
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Inside Salk October 2008
Connections to human biology are also being made in Salk
studies of even lower plant life. Assistant professor
JimUmen’s
research of the microscopic alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
revealed that the retinoblastoma protein (RB), which works as a
tumor suppressor inmammalian cells, also regulates cell size and
division. Further research in his lab found that two more proteins
(DP and E2F), found in both his alga model and in humans,
work in concert with the RB protein to perform this size-regulation
function, the loss of which is one property that is shared by
cancer cells.
More in-depth research of the alga’s flagella, or tiny appendages
that enable the organism to swim, could answer additional
questions related to human disease. Remarkably, most human cells
have similar appendages called cilia whose malfunction is linked to
a growing number of genetic disorders such as polycystic kidney
disease, retinitis pigmentosa andmale infertility.
“When Chris Lamb came back for a visit, he was so pleased
and amazed to see how plant biology at Salk had gone through
a generation of biologists studying individual genes to now
high-throughput plant biology,” Ecker says. “It’s evolved into
a totally different form of research from when he started it.”
Noble Foundation Plays Key Role
In 1982, Lamb’s laboratory in Oxford was beginning to gain
international attention for its research on how plants defend
themselves against pests and pathogens when Salk approached him
with the offer to start the Plant Biology program. His lab hadmade
progress at the physiological and biochemical levels and Lamb was
now looking to apply the emerging plant molecular biology technology
to his work.
“This seemed a fantastic, if somewhat risky, opportunity,” said
Lamb of his decision to come to Salk. “Fantastic because of Salk’s
great prestige and reputation in biomedicine and neurobiology. Risky,
but exciting, because I would be starting something from ground zero.”
Despite offers from other institutions, he decided to take the risk.
At first, Salk’s Plant Biology Laboratory was split between two
locations: One group worked in a downtown La Jolla building on plant
disease resistance, and a second worked on a new project on
monoclonal antibody approaches to characterize functions at the plant
cell surface.
The split was short-lived as the program grew from an initial team of
six researchers to 12 by 1985, then again to about 20 researchers by
1988. As space became available at Salk’s main campus, the entire
Brassinosteroidmutant seedlings of Arabidopsis in a Petri dish.
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