Are you aware of the work of Doreen Ware? Each fall, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory holds an In-House Symposium, where researchers from around campus give talks about their work. One of this year’s speakers was computational plant geneticist Doreen Ware, an Adjunct Associate Professor and USDA researcher who’s working to protect the future of agriculture and the environment.
One of the biggest holdups in plant genomics (the study of plants’ genome or complete set of DNA) is a lack of sequence information. Some plants have their genomes well-covered, while others are more like black boxes. Sequencing plant genomes isn’t easy because many plants have tons of DNA (much more than humans) and there are many different species of plants each with subtle (or dramatic) differences in different regions. Ware’s interested in how these differences arise and affect plants but to answer these questions she needs reliable sequence data – and lots of it.
The raw results of DNA sequencing are fragments you have to figure out how to piece together and Ware’s working to speed up this process. She helped lead the most comprehensive analysis of the maize genome. Additionally, she’s mining the data to try to find “targetable” regions that are important for helping plants thrive in different conditions to help farmers grow crops in a changing climate and with less reliance on environmentally harmful fertilizers.
Ware is a key contributor to three international plant genomics collaborations. She’s the principal investigator for the Gramene project, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded mission to provide a comparative genomics resource for important agricultural crops. This tool combines genomic and experimental data so that scientists and farmers can see what a gene does in one plant, and predict what that gene (or a similar version of it) might do in another plant.
She also works on the NSF-funded CyVerse project which develops “cyberinfrastructure” to make the vast amount of data easier to mine and the Department of Energy (DOE)-funded Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase), which aims to help create predictive models of how plants, microorganisms, and the environment interact.
Ware studied biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, then earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 2000. She joined CSHL as a Post Doctoral Fellow in 2001, where she is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at CSHL as well as a permanent scientist with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
Photo credit: Miriam Chua/USDA