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History

The legacy of Barbara McClintock’s work on maize continues at Uplands Farm to this day. Researchers from the labs of Dr. David Jackson, Dr. Rob Martienssen, and Dr. Marja Timmermans use maize as a model plant to identify the genes encoded in DNA involved in plant development across species. Summer field experiments are planted yearly and are planned and tended to with great care since researchers have only one growth season for maize in the Northeast. Traveling up Lawrence Hill Road beginning in June all the way through October provides one of the few rural views on Long Island as fields of maize can be seen from the road. During the winter months, maize fields in Hawaii provide a nice escape for a few lucky researchers who travel to the islands in February and March to supplement the summer work at Uplands farm. Over recent years at the farm, hard work has begun to pay off with the identification of a number of genes that control leaf shape, ear row number, and the number of tassel branches in maize plants. These genes provide the stepping-stones necessary to learn the complex biological secrets behind how a plant develops from a seed to a mature healthy green plant.

However, maize is not the only plant studied at Uplands farm. Plant research throughout the world began progressing at a rapid pace in the 1980’s when researchers began studying a small weed, called Arabidopsis, which is a member of the plant family, Cruciferae, that includes broccoli and cabbage. Unlike maize, which requires almost four months from seed germination to seed harvest, Arabidopsis requires only six to eight weeks and can be grown year-round in Upland Farm greenhouses and growth chambers. This fast generation time, and the fact that the genetic tools are now so advanced, makes Arabidopsis ideal for studying not only plant development, but also biological phenomena that span plant and animal kingdoms. In fact, Dr. Jackson, Dr. Martienssen, and Dr. Timmermans, all use Arabidopsis in their research programs to complement their studies in maize and to study advanced problems that maize is not as well suited to address.

Between the fields and greenhouses at Uplands farm, and the successful maintenance that has kept them up to standards since Barbara McClintock’s time, plant research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory should continue in the years to come. Uplands Farm will no doubt provide the facilities necessary for maize and Arabidopsis research to progress as rapidly as some of the top plant research institutions in the United States and the world. Thus, Barbara McClintock’s legacy at Cold Spring Harbor should continue well into the 21st century.

Here we are at Uplands Farm at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century. Poised on the threshold of wonderful scientific discovery, a very busy plant group looks forward to what is next. Two new labs were added and a 1600 square foot state of the art greenhouse was constructed.

Zach Lippman, one of the first class of Watson students, returned to Cold Spring Harbor and brought his knowledge of tomato genetics with him. Corn heterosis was famously demonstrated in early twentieth century research done right here at Cold Spring Harbor by George Schull. Zach is advancing the understanding of hybrid vigor and the genetics of it by using tomato to study the mechanisms of flowering and branching. To support this, in 2009 the Woodhouse was built and outfitted to keep the plants going over the winter months and to provide the talented post docs in his lab a constant source of plants to work with.

Doreen Ware joined the lab in 2001 and works on computational biology and comparative genomics with regards to evolution and diversity. Her lab uses next- generation sequence technology to understand how phenotypes relate to crop improvement and how each effects genome organization and gene expression and regulation.

The best is yet to come. Cold Spring Harbor was awarded a grant funded through NSF to refurbish the Uplands greenhouse and growth chambers to bring them up to the state of the art now enjoyed at the Woodhouse. We will find the way to feed and fuel the world in the future.