July 25, 2003
System aids gene research
by Bridget Bailey, News Service intern
Gene chip technology aids faculty member SteveWhitham (front) and graduate
assistant Tyrell Carr in their research. Photo by Bob
Imagine crushing a leaf, processing a tiny bit of it, placing it on a chip
the size of your thumbnail and putting it into a machine that some-what
resembles a desktop computer. Now, imagine looking at a computer screen that
shows all the genes in the leaf, and what they all were doing the instant
the leaf was crushed.
That's the kind of work going on at one of the newest research facilities on
campus -- the Affymetrix GeneChip® Instrumentation System in the
GeneChip® facility in Bessey Hall.
After only four months of operation, the GeneChip® facility has placed
Iowa State scientists on the cutting edge of gene research.
Collaboration is a big part of the new system. Genomic researchers from a
variety of disciplines seek information from bioinformatics specialists. For
example, plant pathologists are working with computer scientists. All are
conducting in-depth studies of how genes -- the basic biological units that
pass characteristics from one generation to another -- work.
The system allows researchers to investigate a variety of plant, microbial,
animal and human research projects, such as how genes function differently
during disease; responses to chemical, physical and environmental stresses
on genes; or something as basic as cell development. It also has aided
studies of gene expression -- the effect or action produced by a gene -- and
is expected to increase data accuracy and reliability of genomics technology
at Iowa State.
The new technology can analyze up to 22,500 genes at the same time via
Microarray technology is like an improved microscope. Researchers can study
how almost all of the genes in an organism are expressed under different
structural and developmental conditions, which makes it easier to
understand how the organism works.
The gene chip instrument will facilitate studies of how various genes
contribute to complex phenotypes -- the visible characteristics of genes
(for example, if the proper gene is expressed, a person has red hair).
Steve Whitham, assistant professor of plant pathology and a researcher in
the Center for Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses, said the facility
benefits Iowa State in many ways. It gives researchers the ability to
acquire and analyze gene chip microarray data on campus. Having this
technology is crucial for top research universities to forge ahead with new
discoveries, Whitham said.
"The complexity of microarray experiments and the massive quantities of data
generated creates a number of problems that require expertise of people from
a variety of disciplines," Whitham said.
At ISU, a "microarray club," as it is called, provides a forum for
researchers from a variety of fields to share their interests, technologies,
resources and research results.
The facility also helps faculty compete for federal research funding. Data
generated by the facility will be a springboard for new or continued funding
"The facility demonstrates that Iowa State is experienced with and committed
to using and developing state-of-the-art technologies to examine the
functions of genes," Whitham said. "It complements technologies used in the
Center for Plant Genomics for making and analyzing microarrays printed on
The facility also has allowed Roger Wise, USDA-Agriculture Research Service
geneticist and ISU professor of plant pathology, to collaborate with
colleagues around the United States to test and confirm the first barley
gene chip array, which he led the effort to design. This is the first
publicly available gene chip for cereal grains. Without the gene chip
facility, the research would have been conducted elsewhere.
The gene chip system will be available in a wide range of departments for
graduate students, as well as to undergraduates in an NSF-funded research
program in molecular biotechnology and genomics.
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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