A Botanist in Molecular Biology
Why study "jumping genes" of corn?
Flowers with colored stripes, indicative of variegation in gene expression, have always fascinated me. As a child I was an avid gardener, requesting bushes and bulbs for birthday gifts; my favorites were always striped. Now that I'm a plant molecular biologist, I know that transposable elements Oumping genes) are the main cause of this variegation.
Developmental control is reflected in  timing: jumping genes are inactive in dividing cells but highly
active later in development, and  differentiated state: in body cells, these genes jump out but in meiotic
cells they jump in. We are analyzing this in maize using a combination of biochemistry and molecular biology.
At the level of plant:enviromnent interaction, we see activation of jumping genes by stresses such as ultraviolet radiation. Here the environment can act as an on-off switch.
Virginia Walbot, Professor, Stanford University
[Note: "jumping genes, " which are now widely known in animals as well as plants, were first discovered
in 1950 by Barbara McClintock who won a Nobel prize in 1983 for her pioneering work in corn genetics.]