Telomerase RNA Evolution
In addition to coding proteins, genomes also transcribe non-coding RNA molecules. These molecules have dramatic effects in the genome including gene regulation, epigenetic silencing, and transposon suppression. The Beilstein lab is interested in the evolution of the telomerase RNA (TER), a non-coding RNA molecule that is an essential component of the enzyme telomerase, which maintains telomere length. Telomeres are the physical ends of linear chromosomes and consist of long stretches of repetitive DNA bound to accessory proteins that help distinguish chromosome ends from double-strand DNA breakpoints. Disruption of telomerase leads to progressive telomere shortening that is associated with genomic instability - particularly chromosome fusion. Little is currently known about the structure and identity of TER in plants. The Beilstein lab uses the plant genetic model Arabidopsis in combination with several emerging plant genomic models closely related to Arabidopsis to determine the structure of TER, and the effect that changes in TER can have at the genomic level.
Evolution in the genus Camelina
Camelina is a genus comprising 12 species relatively closely related to Arabidopsis thaliana. Interest in the group is increasing dramatically due in large part to the biofuel potential of Camelina sativa, an emerging crop. Recently, it was discovered that the C. sativa genome is hexaploid and closely related to two other hexaploid species in the genus, C. microcarpa and C. alyssum. These three species form an interfertile complex. The parental genomes involved in the polyploid origin of the species complex are unknown. Despite scientific efforts focused on maximizing C. sativa biofuel production, little is known about the other 11 species in the genus Camelina. We are working to understand the evolution of duplicated fatty-acid genes in the genus Camelina and their contribution to oil content in the seeds of C. sativa and its closest relatives.