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Marlboro's Genome Man

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“I’m not averse to having a cigarette or cigar now and then,” says North Carolina State University’s Charles Opperman — not exactly a glowing endorsement for someone who just received $17.6 million from Philip Morris. But that’s not why he’s heading up the Tobacco Genome Initiative, funded by the cigarette maker. “I work with tobacco because it’s a good host for nematodes,” Opperman says.

The parasitic worm expert will spend the next four-and-a-half years tackling the Hicks variety of tobacco, a strain highly susceptible to several diseases. “We’re not going to sequence the entire genome,” says Opperman, 45. “It’s one-and-a-half times the size of the human.” Instead, his lab will map the entire genome, and then “try to sequence as many genes as we can.”

A native of New York City, “I had no agricultural background,” Opperman says. “I’d been on a horse a few times, but I don’t think that really counts, does it?” He discovered a soft spot for protecting crops from nematode freeloaders as a student at the University of Florida.

“It was purely an accident,” he says. “I was working in a cancer lab as an undergraduate and I needed a summer course to keep my job, and the only one I could get into was introduction to plant nematology,” he says. “I liked agriculture so much I immediately switched my degree to agronomy.” He went on to earn a PhD in nematology in 1985 with minors in plant breeding and plant pathology, followed by a two-year stint at Union Carbide Agricultural Products, before joining NCSU’s department of plant pathology.

“Hell, these things happen,” he says. “You can’t always predict where you end up.”

— Aaron J. Sender

 

The Scan

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.

Team Presents Cattle Genotype-Tissue Expression Atlas

Using RNA sequences representing thousands of cattle samples, researchers looked at relationships between cattle genotype and tissue expression in Nature Genetics.

Researchers Map Recombination in Khoe-San Population

With whole-genome sequences for dozens of individuals from the Nama population, researchers saw in Genome Biology fine-scale recombination patterns that clustered outside of other populations.

Myotonic Dystrophy Repeat Detected in Family Genome Sequencing Analysis

While sequencing individuals from a multi-generation family, researchers identified a myotonic dystrophy type 2-related short tandem repeat in the European Journal of Human Genetics.