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  FEATURES
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GENOMICS FARMER HARVESTS NEW KNOWLEDGE

 "" PHOTO — Plant genetics professor Richard Michelmore is director of the UC Davis Genome Center.
 
Plant genetics professor Richard Michelmore is director of the UC Davis Genome Center.
   

Richard Michelmore, professor of genetics in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is passionate about plant diseases. Why does a pathogen attack one plant and not another? How does genetic resistance against pathogens change over time? And how can answers to such questions be used to make crops resistant to disease?

As director of the Genome Center on the main UC Davis campus, Michelmore brings that passion to bear on a spectrum of scientific investigations, including cancer and other human diseases.

"Understanding the consequences of genetic variation is a central challenge throughout biology," he says. "It cuts across all disciplines."

Internationally renowned in plant genomics, Michelmore focuses his research on genetic mapping and gene function in lettuce, tomatoes and aridopsis, a model plant related to mustard. He also has a strong interest in translational research — basic scientific information that is applied to meet society's needs. He'll foster the same translational focus within the Genome Center, whether it's creating a more virus-resistant plant or strengthening the body's ability to repair cancer-causing mutations.

To Michelmore's thinking, basic and translational research go hand in hand. That approach has helped to make the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences one of the best agricultural schools in the world where scientists and farmers work closely together, new ideas germinate, and research stays relevant.

He anticipates similar collaboration among basic researchers at the Genome Center and scientists and physicians at UC Davis Health System and its cancer center, resulting in unique opportunities to address important questions and needs in clinical oncology.

The Genome Center is part of the six-floor, 225,000-square-foot Genome and Biomedical Sciences Building that is housing an unparalleled array of genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics and metabolomics research facilities as well as bioinformatics, biomedical engineering, and pharmacology and toxicology laboratories.

Shared resources

Scientists throughout the university and UC Davis Health System will use the resources of the Genome Center. "There's a lot of reinventing the wheel," Michelmore notes. "Our aim is to have an institutional, rather than a lab-by-lab, learning curve," he says.

Over the next three years, the Genome Center will recruit 15 scientists from around the world to set up laboratories in the new building. New recruits will exemplify the Genome Center's multidisciplinary, collaborative approach.

"Our goal is to seek out faculty who are technology-driven," Michelmore says. "We want scientists who are constantly exploring what is new, and who have a proven track record of adopting new approaches."

'Omics Glossary - Genome, Genomics, Proteomics, Transcriptomics, MetabolomicsTwo of the first scientists hired for the Genome Center have a strong interest in cancer-related research.

Michael Wright, who came to the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology from the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, uses a mass spectrometry-based proteomics approach to understand androgenreceptor function in prostate cancer cells.

Androgen-receptor function is one of the most important puzzles in prostate cancer research today, and a major focus of inquiry at the cancer center. If scientists can determine how some prostate cancer cells develop androgen independence, the knowledge may help to prevent or reverse the process, an advance that would extend the lives of thousands of men.

Peggy Farnham, who arrived from the University of Wisconsin to join the UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Medical Pharmacology and Toxicology, has developed a powerful method that allows her to identify where transcription factors bind to the genome, a crucial step in cell division.

The new Genome Center recruits will join the 240-member UC Davis Integrated Cancer Research Program, a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the health system, Davis campus and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore.

Michelmore predicts genomics research will generate technological change on a scale comparable to the Industrial Revolution or computer age, and that UC Davis will play an instrumental role in ushering in the genomics era.

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  "Understanding the consequences of genetic variation is a central challenge throughout biology. It cuts across all disciplines." — Richard Michelmore, genetics professor and director of the UC Davis Genome Center  
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