James Birchler Joins Prestigious Group of Inventors

James Birchler, Curators’ Professor of Biological Sciences
Kristi Galloway
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Biological Sciences

James Birchler, Curators’ Professor of Biological Sciences, was recently selected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for his distinguished contributions to the field of cytogenetics, a branch of science that examines the structure and function of cells, especially chromosomes.

Election as an NAI fellow is an esteemed professional distinction given to academic inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that impact quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. Birchler is a worthy candidate because he has several patents that will help scientists better understand and manipulate chromosomes. “It’s an honor to have our laboratory’s contributions to the field recognized,” says Birchler.

Birchler’s lab developed a chromosome “painting” technique, which uses fluorescent tags to study chromosome structure and behavior in a variety of plant species. Specifically, Birchler is using this procedure to study various aspects of chromosome function and change.

Birchler’s laboratory also created the first synthetic chromosomes in plants. These extra chromosomes can be used as vehicles for introducing large blocks of new genes into plant cells and as a tool to edit the genomes on a large scale, which has potential for crop improvement. The invention provides engineered plant minichromosomes that can be transmitted from one generation to the next; it also provides an ideal platform for breeding new combinations of genes into desired plant varieties. On a larger scale, he hopes his discoveries will help scientists develop plants with new properties including better insect, fungal, viral, herbicide, and drought resistance.  

“I believe that synthetic chromosome technology will have value in the future, and I hope this recognition will bring attention to it so that the technology can be used in a variety of practical applications,” says Birchler.

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