|Name Robert Martienssen|
|Doctoral advisor David Baulcombe|
|Fields Plant Biology and Molecular Biology|
Institutions Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Known for Plant biology and epigenetics
Institution Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Robert Anthony Martienssen is a plant biologist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute–Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation investigator and Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the United States.
Martienssen received his PhD in 1986 from the University of Cambridge on the molecular genetics of alpha-amylase gene families in common wheat supervised by David Baulcombe.
Research and career
Martienssen has made major discoveries relating to the way plants control the expression of their genes. Working with maize, yeast and the weed Arabidopsis, he focuses on the chemical modifications to DNA that determine which genes are active — a process known as epigenetics.
Martienssen’s work explains the effect on plants of ‘jumping genes’, or DNA transposable elements, reported in 1951 by Barbara McClintock, whom he worked alongside early in his career. He discovered that small pieces of RNA, in association with proteins of the Argonaute family, silence transposons in seeds so that gene expression remains stable from one generation to the next.
His work was cited by the journal Science as part of its Breakthrough of the Year: 2002 feature on small RNAs. He has extended his epigenetic studies from seeds to pollen, and his discoveries have implications for plant breeding — including hybrid cloning — and the development of biofuels.
Honors and awards
Martienssen has received numerous awards and honors during his career including: