Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

German-American plant evolution biologist wins MacArthur Award

23.09.2008
Kirsten Bomblies at the Max Planck Institute in Tuebingen, Germany, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

The 34-year-old evolutionary biologist will receive 500.000 Dollars over the next five years from the MacArthur Foundation. The extraordinary thing about this award: The money is not tied to a special purpose, but is designed to enable the recipient to unleash her creativity and advance her science.

The biologist, who received her doctorate only four years ago, was stunned by the news that she will receive 500.000 Dollars from the MacArthur Foundation. "The phone call from the States was the biggest surprise of my life. I still can't believe it." The Foundation awards 20 to 25 Fellowships every year not just to scientists, but also to poets, artists and entrepreneurs--the only criterion for selection is the creativity of their oeuvre. The Award is designed to enable the Fellows to explore new directions, start courageous projects or advance their careers.

Her studies at the Max Planck Institute

Since 2004, Kirsten Bomblies has been a postdoc in the group of Detlef Weigel at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany. There she studies how genetic incompatibilities might contribute to the evolution of new species. Her study object is the mouse ear cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, a small annual plant that is widely distributed and that became the workhorse of plant biologists throughout the world.

Kirsten Bomblies and her colleagues found that crosses between different strains of this plant surprisingly often result in unfit progeny. They do not grow well, their leaves become yellow and they often do not manage to produce flowers. Detailed studies revealed that the immune system was inappropriately activated, even though the plants had not been attacked by fungi or bacteria. Like the human immune system, the plant immune system will normally only attack and destroy infected cells.

In the sick hybrids, however, the immune system turns against healthy tissue, perhaps because it mistook its own cells for foreign invaders. The responsible genes, which only cause sickness in the hybrids, but not in the parents, are pathogen detectors. Kirsten Bomblies emphasizes that the hybrids are not victims of faulty genes: In contrast to certain hereditary autoimmune diseases, the cause is not the inactivity of defective gene copies.

Rather, the damaging interactions result from the presence of genes that evolved differently in the two parents, and that do not properly function anymore when brought back together in the hybrid offspring. Each gene on its own is at worst harmless, if not actually beneficial for the healthy parents, as it helps them to detect and defend themselves against germs. Kirsten Bomblies guesses that the incompatibilities are only side effects of an arms race between the plant and its enemies. The unintended outcomes are reproductive barriers, which may represent the first steps to the evolution of new species.

Course of her career

Kirsten Bomblies was born in Germany, but grew up in Colorado. After she received her bachelor's degree in biology and biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, she worked for several years as a technician in California, in her first stint with Detlef Weigel, who was a faculty member at the Salk Institute in La Jolla at the time. Kirsten Bomblies received her PhD in 2004 from the University of Wisconsin for her work on the domestication of corn. Shortly after, she returned to the study of mouse ear cress, as postdoc in the Department of Molecular Biology of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany. Her days there are numbered, however; next July she will start her own group as an Assistant Professor at Harvard. There, she would like to continue to study the evolution of new species, but she is also planning to work with plants other than mouse ear cress.

"Although Kirsten is only 34 years old, she is already a respected scientist who is invited to many international conferences. Her studies of hybrid incompatibilities have opened a new field in evolutionary biology. I know very few scientists who have so many original and exciting ideas as Kirsten. The MacArthur Fellowship will allow her to pursue her ideas independently of scientific fashion. I am absolutely thrilled--a great honor not only for Kirsten, but also for evolutionary biology and the freedom of science in the Max Planck Society," so her mentor, Detlef Weigel, director at the Max Planck Institute.

Contact

Kirsten Bomblies
Ph.: +49 (0) 7071-601-1405
E-Mail: Kirsten.Bomblies@tuebingen.mpg.de
Susanne Diederich (Public Relations Department)
Ph.: +49 (0) 7071-601-333
E-Mail: presse@tuebingen.mpg.de
The Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology conducts basic research in the fields of biochemistry, genetics and evolutionary biology. It employs about 325 people and is located at the Max Planck Campus in Tuebingen, Germany. The Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology is one of 82 research and associated institutes of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw
Further information:
http://eb.mpg.de
http://www.weigelworld.org/members/kirstenb

More articles from Awards Funding:

nachricht Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann
20.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Scientist from Kiel University coordinates Million Euros Project in Inflammation Research
19.01.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Awards Funding >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>