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Siobhan Brady: The Roots of Systems Biology

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Recommended by: Harris Lewin, University of California, Davis

In her research, Siobhan Brady brings together root development and systems biology, using techniques like RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, and high-throughput protein-DNA interaction profiling.

Brady's lab at UC Davis is currently involved in two research areas. One group works on projects involving Arabidopsis. In particular, it is studying vascular tissue within the root. "Previously, I had analyzed data profiling gene expression in every single cell type except for one … and 13 different developmental time points within the Arabidopsis root," she says. "I wanted to take those expression patterns … and try to identify the transcription factors that were responsible for producing those patterns." Some of the projects "that we have [use the] enhanced yeast one-hybrid analysis [method] that we published last year in Nature Methods," she says.

A second group in the lab is working on "making tomato another model system for looking at root development," Brady says.

"We're taking a quantitative genetics approach to look at root development and to look at root growth traits and how they differ across a cross between wild species and domesticated species," she adds.

In addition to her current research projects, Brady has also worked on establishing a map of gene expression that covers "nearly all the cell types and all the developmental time points in an individual organ." She and her colleagues published that map in Science in 2007.

Looking ahead

In the next five years, Brady hopes that researchers in her field will have a better understanding of the systems they study. "I think that understanding an organism or an organ that you are working on or a particular biological question requires you to wunderstand your system very well," she says. "I think that's really important at the cell type resolution and at specific developmental time points."

She also says that it's important to "have a very strong genetic basis in understanding the genetic mechanisms responsible for particular traits" as well as an understanding of the "molecular program that underlie the development or the responses of tissues … particularly at the cell type and temporal resolution."

And the Nobel goes to…

If she could win the Nobel Prize, Brady would like to receive the award for "being able to understand and manipulate gene regulatory networks that influence plant breeding [and improve] our ability to sustainably produce crops in some particular way that uses the root," she says.

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