MacArthur Fellows Program

Kirsten Bomblies

Plant Evolutionary Geneticist | Class of 2008

opening avenues into the mysteries of how new species originate through her explorations of incompatible hybrids as a mechanism for speciation in shared ecological niches.

Title
Plant Evolutionary Geneticist
Affiliation
Department of Molecular Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
Location
Tübingen, Germany
Age
34 at time of award

Kirsten Bomblies is a young molecular biologist who is shedding light on the mysteries of how new species originate. As a graduate student, she investigated how teosinte, an inedible grass indigenous to Mexico, was domesticated into a commodity crop — corn. Bomblies participated in experiments showing how a single gene, tga1, which controls development of the female inflorescences (ears), can be modified such that the fruitcase is essentially inverted, exposing the edible portion of the fruit. She and her colleagues extended these results by identifying two genes that may control the number of rows of grain. Her more recent series of investigations as a postdoctoral fellow have examined the role of incompatible hybrids as a mechanism for speciation in a shared ecological niche. Using the classical model of plant genetics, the flowering weed Arabidopsis thaliana, Bomblies showed in over 1,000 hybrid crosses that some plants developed a necrotic syndrome similar to the reaction caused by a pathogen. She demonstrated that a family of about 100 genes known as R (resistance) genes, which offer protection against predation, can in particular combinations generate an autoimmune syndrome that prevents a plant hybrid from thriving. Since only certain combinations of R genes are mutually compatible, this observation provides a molecular genetic mechanism for generating reproductively isolated subsets within a previously homogeneous community at a common location. Bomblies is currently expanding these observations further in Arabidopsis and testing their generality in other plant species. Her findings provide a surprising molecular genetic mechanism linking developmental and evolutionary biology, and thus may represent a key advance in both disciplines.

Kirsten Bomblies received a B.A. (1996) from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. (2004) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently a senior postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. Her scientific articles have appeared in such journals as Nature, Nature Reviews Genetics, and PLoS Biology.

News About this Fellow
November 4, 2014
"Meiotic Adaptation to Whole Genome Duplication"
New Phytologist
Kirsten Bomblies, 2008 MacArthur Fellow
September 17, 2009
"Growing Her Own Answers"
Harvard Gazette
Kirsten Bomblies, 2008 MacArthur Fellow
View all news

Photos

Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY.
Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.


More Fellows

View All 2008 Fellows

Stay Informed
Sign up for periodic news updates and event invitations. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.