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Natural variation

Detlef Weigel

Detlef Weigel

  • PhD studies at the MPI for Developmental Biology, 1986-88
  • Postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology, 1989-93
  • Assistant and Associate Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 1993-02
  • Director at the MPI since 2002

Research Interest

How do new variants arise in the genome? Why do some increase in frequency? And why do certain combinations cause genetic incompatibilities? These questions reflect the evolutionary processes of mutation, selection and speciation, and we study all three. We have been pioneers in applying new sequencing technologies to plants, and are using these to characterize genome- and species-wide patterns of sequence and methylome divergence. Such top-down approaches, for which we have developed a series of best-in-class bioinformatic methods, are complemented by bottom-up ones, in which we use forward genetics to identify genes responsible for variation in adaptive traits such as flowering, growth and disease resistance. My interest in such traits arose from previous work on the mechanisms that control flowering. Today, my group continues to pursue mechanistic analyses of plant development. In the past, we have made several seminal discoveries in this area. This included the cloning of the gene that encodes the long-sought-after flowering hormone and the identification of the first plant micro-RNA mutant. Current work involves the analysis of a newly discovered molecular pathway that allows plants to flower independently of the environment, and studies that seek to elucidate general principles of microRNA action in plants.

Selected Reading

1) Chae, E., Bomblies, K., Kim, S.-T., Karelina, D., Zaidem, M., Ossowski, S., Martin Pizarro, C., Laitinen, R. A. E., Rowan, B. A., Tenenboim, H., Lechner, S., Demar, M., Habring-Müller, A., Lanz, C., Rätsch, G., and Weigel, D. (2014) Species-wide genetic incompatibility analysis identifies immune genes as hotspots of deleterious epistasis. Cell 159, 1341-1351.

2) Becker C, Hagmann J, Müller J, Koenig D, Stegle O, et al (2011) Spontaneous epigenetic variation in the Arabidopsis thaliana methylome. Nature 480, 245-249.

3) Todesco M, Balasubramanian S, Hu TT, Traw BM, et al (2010) Natural allelic variation underlying a major fitness tradeoff in Arabidopsis thaliana. Nature 465, 632-636.
(click to enlarge)
Analyses of DNA methylation in plant genomes.