Ralph S. Quatrano talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of Plant &
Animal Science. The author has also sent along images
of his work.
Article: The Physcomitrella genome reveals
evolutionary insights into the conquest of land by
Authors: Rensing, SA, et al.
Journal: SCIENCE, 319 (5859): 64-69 JAN 4 2008
Addresses: Washington Univ, Dept Biol, 1 Brookings Dr, St
Louis, MO 63130 USA.
Washington Univ, Dept Biol, St Louis, MO 63130 USA.
Univ Freiburg, Fac Biol, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.
US DOE, Joint Genome Inst, Walnut Creek, CA 94598
Lawrence Livermore Natl Lab, Walnut Creek, CA 94598
Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Walnut Creek, CA 94598 USA.
Kanazawa Univ, Adv Sci Res Ctr, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 9200934,
(addresses have been truncated)
Why do you think your paper is highly
Our paper is highly cited because it represents the complete genome of a
plant, the moss Physcomitrella patens, that lacks vascular tissue
and seeds and serves as an example of an early land plant. Prior to this
genome being sequenced, one had access to the complete genome sequence of
only single-celled algae, such as Chlamydomonas, and seed plants
such as rice and Arabidopsis. The complete sequence of the moss
P. patens gives us insights into the genes that function in the
colonization of land, e.g., those that protect the plant from water loss
and high light.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
Haploid, single-cell layer, leaf-like gametophores
of P. patens
The moss genome sequence does not describe any new methodology, but does
allow us to look at the genes in various metabolic pathways that were
likely operative during the colonization of land. It will encourage
scientists to compare the genome of this plant with other plants (e.g.,
ferns) that possess traits characteristic of seed plants such as vascular
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
Our paper opens the exploration of a plant genome, uniquely positioned in
the evolutionary ladder of land plants, for analysis of its novel and
uncharacterized genes for their role in important traits such as their
ability to withstand drought and desiccation.
How did you become involved in this research and were
any particular problems encountered along the way?
I became interested in this research because I have been involved in
utilizing P. patens as an experimental system for over 10 years.
During this time, it was clear to me and others in our consortium that the
experimental use of this system would be greatly expanded and enhanced by
having the genome sequenced. It would also allow other scientists who were
not utilizing the system—or who were not aware of the system—to
now access the genome and experimental technologies that we developed to
approach their specific problems.
Where do you see your research leading in the
There were no specific problems that we encountered during the sequencing
of the genome, except for numerous discussions with the Department of
Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) on the quality of the DNA that
we provided and various sequencing conditions and potential artifacts. I
also had available a strong group of international researchers as part of
our moss consortium. They were extremely helpful in completing the final
manuscript and organizing the numerous authors who cooperated in
highlighting those characteristics of the genome that were in their area of
My own research will now be enriched and expanded to include many genes and
gene regulatory networks that are involved with hormonal signaling
pathways, the establishment of cell polarity, and the mechanisms involved
with desiccation or drought tolerance in land plants. Many of these genes
are uncharacterized and represent a unique opportunity to describe novel
genes and their functions.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
I do not foresee any social or political implications of this research
except that it will definitely aid scientists around the world in having a
clearer understanding of land plant evolution and the genes that are
involved with plant growth and development.
Ralph S. Quatrano, Ph.D.
Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology
Department of Biology
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis. MO, USA Web