Plant biologist Mary Gehring joins Whitehead Institute faculty

August 23, 2010

Tags: Gehring LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Mary Gehring could be forgiven for initially thinking that Whitehead Institute might not be the best place to conduct her research into epigenetic reprogramming via the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. She would, after all, be the only plant biologist on the faculty. And, she asked herself, “Where will I grow plants in the middle of downtown Cambridge?”

But upon further reflection, meetings with faculty, and a tour of Whitehead’s rooftop greenhouse—which has been home to its share of Arabidopsis plants in years past—she realized she’d found the right environment.

“I knew I could really benefit from having these people as colleagues,” says Gehring, who earned her PhD at University of California, Berkeley, and is completing a stint as a postdoctoral research associate at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “There’s a feeling of intellectual excitement that’s different from anywhere else I’ve been. And, I was excited to see that greenhouse.”

Moreover, Gehring’s study of epigenetics—which refers to changes in phenotype and gene expression caused by mechanisms other than alterations to an organism’s underlying DNA sequence—in Arabidopsis has commonalities and potential synergies with research occurring in other Whitehead laboratories. Indeed, the key mechanisms of epigenomic reprogramming that Gehring studies in plants, including DNA methylation, demethylation, and chromatin remodeling, occur across species, including mammals. She plans to devote particular focus to the roles these mechanisms play during reproduction and development.

“I became interested in the idea that these epigenetic processes are essential to the success of the next generation of plants,” she says. “I want to really get an understanding of how these processes are involved, and how variable they are, in setting up the genome for the next generation.”

“Mary’s arrival represents a welcome return to our roots in plant biology,” says Whitehead Institute Director David Page. “Her focus on epigenetics brings additional depth to our faculty in one of today’s hottest research areas.”

Gehring will officially open her lab in September, joining cancer biologist Piyush Gupta as Whitehead Institute’s newest faculty Members.

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Mary Gehring's primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where her laboratory is located and all her research is conducted. She is also an assistant professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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