Written by

Assistant Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology Brit Moss and former student Hannah Klaeser '17 have co-authored a new peer-reviewed science publication in the journal Plant Direct. 

Moss and Klaeser, a biology major, worked on a team with plant biologists and software engineers at the University of Washington and Virginia Tech to develop and pilot-test a new web-based tool that enables exploration of genetic diversity within the plant genus Arabidopsis, which is found all over the globe and widely used in plant biology research. 

A major goal of the project was to make the tool more user-friendly for those who have never worked with large genetic datasets. Moss hopes to use this tool to assist her with teaching and research at Whitman. 

"An exciting aspect of this collaborative project was working with a large team with various types of expertise," Moss said. "It is very reflective of how scientific research operates these days, often via large and diverse groups of researchers." 

Since accessing and working with large genomic datasets requires a fairly high level of computational biology expertise, the multi-institutional team developed ViVa (Visualizing Variation), a web-based application that aims to empower any researcher to take advantage of their 1001 Genomes Project. 

Moss and Klaeser furthered these efforts by using ViVa to characterize natural variation in genes involved in responding to an important plant growth hormone, auxin. 

"I plan to also use this ViVa tool in my teaching as a way to help introduce undergraduates to genetic diversity and to the various genome sequencing approaches and analyses that they are likely to encounter during their careers in science," Moss said. 

In addition to demonstrating the usefulness of ViVa by providing confirmation of existing knowledge, their analyses helped generate new hypotheses regarding this well-studied plant growth hormone. 

"It was exciting to test the ViVa web tool, which can be used to investigate pre-existing data sets in novel ways," Klaeser said. 

According to Moss, tools like ViVa might eventually help revolutionize the breeding and genetic engineering of crop plants.

"Working with Dr. Moss as a member of the collaborative team allowed for me to contribute to multiple aspects of the scientific paper writing process," said Klaeser, who is currently studying at Northwestern University's Master of Biotechnology Program. "I especially appreciated seeing how the peer-review process functions first-hand."