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K-State Today

April 16, 2012

National Academy of Sciences member to give Hageman Lecture April 18

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Artificial chromosomes will be the focus of the 14th annual Richard H. and Elizabeth C. Hageman Distinguished Lectureship in Agricultural Biochemistry at Kansas State University.

James Birchler, Curators professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, will present "Development and potential Applications of Engineered Minichromsomes in Plants" at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in 120 Ackert Hall. Birchler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Engineering an additional chromosome into an organism opens up enormous possibilities for using recombinant DNA strategies to engineer desirable traits.

Birchler will also present the colloquium "Food in the Future: Harvesting the fruits of natural and synthetic gene diversity" from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 19, in 36 Chalmers Hall. Refreshments will be served at 9:15 a.m.

This year's colloquium will focus on future trends in food production and ways to make use of genetic resources. This may be through use of new food crops, engineering or conventional selection of traditional crops, or blending of those strategies.

Both the lecture and colloquium are free and open to the public.

Birchler earned a bachelor's degree from Eastern Illinois University. He earned his doctorate from the University of Indiana.  As a doctoral student, Birchler discovered that increasing the number of chromosome (pieces) carrying a structural gene did not lead to more of the enzyme activity in a cell; the chromosome fragment also carried an inverse regulator. Birchler discovered this while working on maize. He later found that same to be true in drosophila for the same gene, adh. This phenomenon has broad implications for gene regulation in polyploids or transgenic organisms. Gene balance is a critical modulator in networks with protein complexes, such as signal cascades and transcriptional activators.

Today, Birchler is a recognized expert in maize cytogenetics and has applied fluorescent in situ hybridization for the soybean karyotyping. He has been able to paint the chromosomes, yielding "Maize by Monet." Birchler has published 120 peer-reviewed papers, 100 invited chapters and a patent on maize artificial chromosomes. 

Birchler was honored with the title of Curators professor in the Division of Biological Sciences in 2009. He has been recognized as one of the "Teaching Legends of Mizzou" and has served as a mentor to at least three dozen undergraduates, 15 graduate students and more than 30 postdoctoral fellows and associates. 

Birchler serves on the editorial boards for a dozen journals. He is co-editor of the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter. He has been an invited speaker at dozens of national and international meetings about drosophila, maize and biotechnology. He also serves on the Committee on Agricultural Preparedness of the President's Council of Scientific Advisers.

The Richard H. and Elizabeth C. Hageman Distinguished Lectureship in Agricultural Biochemistry is supported by an endowment from the Hagemans. The late Richard Hageman, a Kansas native and K-State alum, was a research chemist and professor who studied plant nitrogen metabolism and rate-limiting enzymes in crops. Elizabeth Hageman, a retired biochemist, was involved in pioneering work with the in-vitro culture of bovine mammary gland tissue.

This year's lectureship is co-hosted with the department of plant pathology.