In our wallets, next to our driver’s licenses and gym memberships, we’ll soon carry cards bearing our complete genetic profiles, Carroll & Milton Petrie Biology Professor Gloria Coruzzi suggests. The information will enable a doctor who doesn’t even know you to predict what medication will work best within your particular nervous system.
Coruzzi studies the gene networks in plants, not humans—most notably in a common weed called Arabidopsis—so it might surprise you to hear her weigh in on your medical future. But it turns out that charting gene networks in the humblest of organisms can also unlock the secrets of more complex creatures. Scientists working on the Human Genome Project, for example, followed the lead of the researchers who first sequenced a plant genome in 2000, earning Arabidopsis a place in the history books. And Coruzzi’s effort to control nitrogen use in plants has immediate, practical applications in the fields of agriculture and sustainability, where making efficient use of farmland to feed the planet’s growing population is an urgent challenge.
We met Coruzzi at NYU’s (beyond) state-of-the-art Center for Genomics and Systems Biology one morning for a tour of the ongoing projects in her lab, where she explained how access to such a facility has radically changed the way she approaches research. “Here at NYU, before we had the Center, we had started doing genome-scale experiments but we didn’t have the wide range of high-throughput genomic capabilities that we have now in our Core facility,” Coruzzi explains. “The openness between the labs and the bioinformatics [suite] has just exploded our ability to do genome science.”
These days, with open-air laboratories, powerhouse computers that analyze genomic data, and even greenhouses and growth chambers all under one roof, she and her colleagues can see an idea through, from hypothesis to results, gathering insights without ever leaving the building.
Coruzzi’s work has garnered her international recognition and grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy, and her enthusiasm for her subject is infectious. When tasked with explaining the latest and greatest in genomic research to a couple of nonscientists peeking indiscreetly into the corners of her lab, she rose to the challenge, at one point offering: “I love this place. I love the science. I love the people.”
Needless to say, it was a thorough tour. Check out our favorite moments in the photo slideshow above.