Efficiently Introducing New Traits with Genetic Engineering

Thomas “Tom” Brutnell is an industry leader in the field of agricultural biotechnology and the president of Viridis Genomics Consulting. His professional focus centers around genome (genetic) engineering, a discipline that began in the early 1980s when a research team led by Bob Fraley successfully utilized Agrobacterium tumefaciens to manipulate plant cells with the help of recombinant DNA. This led to the development of an array of genetically engineered crops, including corn and soybeans.

Genome engineering is different from traditional plant genetics, as it involves extracting DNA from one organism and introducing it into another, resulting in an organism which has specific desired traits. In order for this process to be successful, genes must first be located, cloned and characterized in order to determine their expression, and then transformed into a crop plant’s cells. Brutnell is well-versed in this cutting-edge technology and continues to provide innovative solutions for crop improvement.

Epigenetic Regulation as a Driver of Adaptive Plant Growth

A Missouri leader in the agricultural biotech sphere, Thomas Tom Brutnell consults and serves as vice president at Gateway Biotechnology, Inc. For his thesis research at Yale University, Thomas Brutnell undertook a molecular genetic analysis of transposable elements in plants and focused on the epigenetic regulation of the transposable maize Activator/Dissociation (Ac/Ds) elements.

Not limited to plants, epigenetic regulation of genes is a process where their activity is controlled by the structure of chromatin (a material made up of protein, RNA, and DNA). However, epigenetic regulation in plants differs in important ways from animals. With mammals, most tissue and organ formation occurs during embryonic development. By contrast, plants continuously generate new organs from meristems (self-sustaining stem cell populations), enabling growth. This exposes the plant germline to many more challenges over time that a typical mammalian system. For instance, the meristems of a 200 year old tree are experiencing CO2 concentrations today that are nearly double the levels when it germinated and the associated extreme environmental variation associated with climate change!

Plants cannot leave their environments and must cope with variable and unfavorable conditions. Epigenetic regulatory mechanisms enable metastable alterations in gene activity and influence gene expression patterns, allowing plants to survive and reproduce in diverse environments. Polyploidization is one key aspect that contributes to epigenetic regulation. It expands the plant’s sets of chromosomes, strengthening gene families and enabling functional specializations among duplicated genes.

The Differences between Hiking and Trekking

A Yale University PhD graduate, Dr. Thomas “Tom” Brutnell is a scientist with over 25 years of experience in plant molecular biology, genetics, and genomics. He currently serves as a vice president at Gateway Biotechnology, a drug development company in St. Louis, Missouri. He also serves as a visiting scientist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, China. In his free time, Thomas Brutnell is an avid walker and occasional runner.

Given the extensive amount of time many of us now spend behind a computer screen, it is important to incorporate some daily standing, stretching and walking breaks into the daily work schedule. This is particularly relevant to those of us who now work from home and spend even less time walking to and from our cars into the office in the morning or routinely skip heading out to lunch for a break. Incorporating a short 10 to 15 min walk between a morning and afternoon meeting is a great way to rest your eyes, wrists and fingers from the screen and keyboard. It is also important to be intentional in standing at least every hour. Just one or two minutes of standing and walking around the living room every hour can actually benefit your metabolism and provided a break for your eyes.

In addition to taking short breaks during the day, incorporating 20 min or more of strenuous exercise two or three times a week is not only good for the body but good for the mind. A 20 min run through the woods or even on a treadmill will do more to help relieve stress if you don’t think about work and instead focus on your breathing, your posture or on the rhythm of your pace. The time spent on these activities will more than make up in productivity (and longevity!) for time lost behind the screen.

About Gateway Biotechnology’s Current Projects

As an innovator in genomics technologies, Thomas Brutnell serves as the vice president of Gateway Biotechnology in St. Louis, Missouri. Drawing on over 25 years of molecular biology, genetics, and genomics experience, Thomas Brutnell oversees Gateway’s innovative drug research and development projects.

Founded in 2011, Gateway Biotechnology is a drug research company located in St. Louis. The company focuses on repurposing FDA-approved drugs for use in treating and preventing hearing disorders. Currently, there are no FDA-approved drug on the market for treating the majority of hearing problems that Gateway Biotechnology aims to address.

The company is currently conducting studies to deploy innovative solutions for noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. One of their projects, funded by the US Department of the Army, centers on developing effective treatments for noise-induced hearing loss and is now being tested in a clinical phase II trial. Gateway’s research pipeline has largely been driven through non-dilutive grants from the National Institute of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer STTR programs.

The company is now actively seeking investments to help accelerate the development of a product to protect against acute acoustic trauma.