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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

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Hageman Distinguished Lecturer in Agricultural Biochemistry

Image of Jeffrey Palmer

Dr. Jeffrey Palmer

Distinguished Professor
Class of 1955 Professor
Department of Biology
Indiana University, Bloomington
Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences

October 24-25, 2012

Lecture: "Mitochondrial Sex in Plants: Mitochondrial Fusion Drives Horizontal Gene Transfer and Gene Conversion in the Devil's Playground."

Colloquium: “Plants as a model ‘system’ for comparative genomics, evolutionary biology, domestication and discovery research"

About the speaker

Jeffrey Palmer obtained his B.A. in Biology at Swarthmore College and then a PhD in Biology at Stanford University. After a post-doctoral year at the Carnegie Institution, he was a faculty member at the University of Michigan before moving to Indiana University as an Associate Professor. At Indiana he has served as Chair of the Department of Biology a total of nine years in two intervals, and is a Distinguished Professor in that department.

Dr. Palmer is recipient of a number of awards, mainly in the area of evolution. These include the David Starr Jordan Prize at Indiana, and the G.L. Stebbins Medal, a Merit Award and Centennial Award from the Botanical Society of America, Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 2000, election to the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Palmer is a member of the editorial boards for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, and BMC Evolutionary Biology. He has served another half dozen journals in similar capacity and is an ad hoc reviewer for dozens more. His advice is regularly solicited as an external examiner, and as an organizer of scientific sessions.

Professor Palmer has served as mentor to 15 PhD and more than 30 post-doctoral fellows. A large majority of them are now faculty members at universities. He is author or coauthor of about 200 publications appearing in a wide range of journals and books.

A recurring theme in Jeff Palmer’s work has been to relate DNA sequences to the evolution of plants. At the time he began his studies of DNA and evolution, DNA sequencing was challenging prospect. His studies were pioneering efforts to show the evolutionary relations between plastids of different genera of higher and lower plant species. They also revealed the basis of cytoplasmic male sterility in mitochondria, crucial for plant breeders.

Chloroplast DNA sequences were crucial for developing the first published molecular phylogenies of plants. The mitochondrial genome is generally more conservative than nuclear or plastid genomes in DNA sequences for expressed sequences, but may have rapid divergence of intergenic regions. Hence the plastid and mitochondrial genomes will give different information about the origin and evolution of plants. Both plastids and mitochondria transferred genes to the nuclear genome, and chloroplast sequences have invaded the mitochondrion, leaving traces of their evolutionary history in the DNA. This year’s colloquium will be focused on plants as model systems in evolutionary biology.

Of particular relevance to agriculture is the question of how often and extensively horizontal gene transfer may naturally occur between species, genera and families of plants. Modern techniques of genetic engineering now can promote widespread incorporation of DNA from one species to another. The issue of concern is whether newly introduced genes are likely to spread to other unintended recipients by natural processes. That includes not just the obvious transfer of pollen, but root grafting, parasitism, and potentially vectored transfer by microbes and insects. And don’t forget mitochondrial sex. Horizontal gene transfer and gene conversion are the subject of this year’s lecture.