25 years later, UF biotech center still producing genomic breakthroughs
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.
Citrus expert Fred Gmitter said that 25 years ago, "building" new and better oranges was inconceivable. But with the boon of genome sequencing, scientists are developing a blueprint that will allow them to recreate the sweet orange for which Florida is so well-known.
Twenty-five years ago also marked the birth of the University of Florida's Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, and Gmitter, a professor at UF's Citrus Research and Education Center, spoke at the 25th anniversary event on Wednesday.
"Genomics is to the future of science what broadband is to communications and highways are to transportation," Gmitter said.
Robert Ferl, ICBR director and a UF professor in the department of horticultural sciences, added, "The technology has developed so dramatically. Our job is to bring the technology to campus and make it available to researchers."
"We underpin a lot of the biomedical research on campus," Ferl continued, adding that the center has supported research related to the Human Genome Project. Dr. Barry Byrne, a pediatrician and the director of the Powell Gene Therapy Center, has used the center to support research and diagnostics related to rare diseases like Pompe Disease, a fatal muscular disease afflicting infants and children.
Gmitter talked about his work on developing oranges that are resistant to the Huanglongbing disease (HLB), which has wiped out between 60 and 100 percent of Florida's citrus crop. In the past five years, Florida's citrus crop has gone from covering over 620,000 acres to about 500,000, in part because of HLB, Gmitter said. Urbanization has also contributed to the decline.
The state still produces 75 percent of the citrus crops in the U.S. Gmitter is also working on making a seedless grapefruit that is also free of what's known as the grapefruit juice effect, which can slow down the body's ability to metabolize certain drugs.
Some UF researchers have used ICBR's DNA sequencing technology to look at the evolution of flowers. Doug Soltis, a professor in the biology department who also works at the Florida Museum of Natural History, spoke about studying the tragopogon, a member of the sunflower family, for clues about genomic doubling, which is believed to have contributed to the diversity and success of many species, including humans.
Soltis called the tragopogon, which grows abundantly in the western part of the U.S., "a North American success story."
"After 40 generations, the same genes were lost or retained. This is important for evolution because it tells us some things may be hard-wired," said Soltis.
Soltis is also working on the "tree of life" project that aims to help identify species and plot them on a single tree representing all the earth's species. "We've named about 1.9 million
species, and there are about 10 times more than that on earth," said Soltis. "The goal is to follow Darwin's tree of life. With DNA data, we know much, much more than we knew in the 200 years prior (to having it). So we want to study how all the organisms are related. That's building the tree of life."
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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