Christopher R. Somerville

Open Philanthropy Project


Primary Section: 25, Plant Biology
Secondary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member (elected 1996)

Research Interests

I am broadly interested in understanding plant biology at a level that would permit directed genetic modification of any trait. I believe that this goal will be most efficiently achieved by understanding one representative species in great detail. Thus, some aspects of my research have been designed to encourage the widespread adoption of Arabidopsis thaliana as a model species for experimental plant biology. In this context, my laboratory has isolated and characterized mutations in more than sixty-five loci that affect many different aspects of growth and development. I also participated in the development of methods and genetic materials that permitted the isolation of Arabidopsis genes by map-based cloning and, in collaboration with a group of colleagues, initiated the current effort to sequence the Arabidopsis genome. A principal interest in my laboratory has been an analysis of the biosynthesis and function of membrane and storage lipids. By using both genetic and biochemical approaches, we defined the complex pathways by which plants synthesize unsaturated fatty acids, defined the physiological effects of polyunsaturation on plant growth and development, and isolated genes for five of the desaturase enzymes present in plants. These have been used for mechanistic and structural studies that have suggested a novel reaction mechanism for desaturases.

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