As a geneticist, I seek to understand the basis for heritable variation within a species. My group uses a combination of classical genetics, molecular genetics and genomics approaches to study molecular variation and inheritance in maize. Maize is one of the most important crop plants and also provides a strong model system for studying genetic variation. The maize genome is has a complex organization of genes and transposons and has high levels of variation among different individuals.
Heritable variation within a species can include DNA sequence changes that affect the quality of gene products, DNA sequence changes that influence expression levels of genes or epigenetic variation that can influence expression levels without requiring DNA sequence changes. My lab focuses on studying the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that lead to variation in gene expression levels. Many of our current studies are focused on how genetic variation, such as transposon insertions, and epigenetic variation influences chromatin modifications such as DNA methylation. We utilize genomic technologies to profile the epigenome of maize in different genotypes, tissue or environmental conditions to understand the factors that influence variation in chromatin modifications.
The members of my lab have active research projects studying the epigenome, transcriptome or genome of maize. We are interested in understanding how variation in chromatin, gene expression or genetic content leads to changes in phenotype. By improving our understanding of how the heritable information in the genome leads to altered phenotype we hope to enable crop improvement. My group also studies how transposons contribute to regulatory variation in maize, the prevalence and consequences of structural variation including copy number variation (CNV) and presence-absence variation (PAV) and how heritable variation contributes to heterosis in maize.