Work in the West lab is focussed on understanding how plants repair and respond to chromosomal breaks. These are breaks in both strands of the DNA duplex, and DNA double strand (DSB) repair and response mechanisms are crucial for cellular survival and the faithful transmission of genetic information. Unrepaired DSBs can inhibit gene expression, DNA replication and lead to mutagenesis and cell death. Understanding these pathways is fundamental for improvement of plant growth under environmental stress and the directed manipulation of the genome in biotechnology. DSB repair pathways are of particular importance in the seed stage of the plant lifecycle, as DNA damage accumulates in seeds due to low activity of cellular maintenance mechanisms in the dry quiescent state.
DNA damage arises from environmental stresses, such as UV-B and background radiation. In addition, the products of cellular metabolism, in particular (Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) leads to a constant background level of DNA damage which requires continuous repair. Organisms have evolved specific pathways to repair different forms of damage, which are essential for organism survival and minimise mutations in the genome. A highly toxic form of DNA damage is the DSB, which represents fragmentation of a chromosome.
In our lab we use multidisciplinary approaches, incorporating omics, molecular genetics, biochemical and cell biology approaches to study DNA repair processes in the model plant Arabidopsis and crop species including barley and Brassica. A major focus is understanding the roles of DNA damage and response factors in seeds and their potential as predictive markers of seed quality and the genetic improvement of germination. In addition, we are using the CRISPR-Cas9 system to investigate mechanisms of recombination in plants.
For more details please visit our web page: http://chriswest2000.wixsite.com/chriswestlab