Matthew Scott Reveals Why We Should Care About Jumping Genes at His Neighborhood Lecture

Matthew Scott

Carnegie Science President Matthew Scott revealed to a sold out Neighborhood Lecture crowd in the Greenewalt Lecture Hall last week how genes that jump from one place in a chromosome to another, or jumping genes, may have influenced early life on Earth and why exactly we should care about them now. The lecture kicked off our Spring 2017 Neighborhood Lecture Series on Thursday, March 16.

Matthew ScottCarnegie Science President Matthew Scott explaining how our genes are copied when cells divide at his Neighborhood Lecture on March 16, 2017. Photo by Natasha Metzler, Carnegie Science.

The DNA of one human cell—two copies of our “genome”—would stretch almost two meters if fully extended. However, normally it’s tightly packaged in 46 chromosomes. About 20,000 genes are distributed along this DNA; they carry the information for building and operating a human. Any particular gene is located at a specific place in a chromosome and, normally, stays there. Carnegie scientist Barbara McClintock discovered, in corn, that some genes jump from one place in a chromosome to another. Similar things occur in most organisms, including us. This discovery, which earned a Nobel prize, led to dramatic advances in understanding infectious diseases, evolution, and the controls that turn genes on and off in specific places and tissues.

Although jumping genes may have played a major role in influencing early life on Earth, they can also lead to the human mutations, plant variegation, and antibiotic resistance that is seen today. Throughout his presentation, Scott fielded questions from the audience, prompting deep discussions about these issues and a better understanding by all of his presentation.

Matthew ScottWe are carrying around a lot of jumping genes, explains Scott at his Neighborhood Lecture. Photo by Natasha Metzler, Carnegie Science.

The Carnegie Neighborhood Lecture Series spotlights the science at our campus on Broad Branch Road, which is home to DTM and the Geophysical Laboratory. Light refreshments are served prior to each lecture, and each talk lasts approximately one hour.

The next Spring 2017 Neighborhood Lecture, titled "Rocks from Space: Be Grateful and a Little Afraid," will be given by Conel M. O'D. Alexander on Thursday, April 27, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. in the Greenewalt Lecture Hall. Doors open at 6 p.m. Lecture Hall seating is first to come, first serve. Eventbrite tickets are not required, so please arrive early to reserve your seat. Eventbrite registration is encouraged to skip the sign-in process at the door.

March 16, 2017

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