Joseph F. Petolino, Research Fellow, Dow AgroSciences
Without advances in the in vitro manipulation of plant cells and tissues, there would be no agricultural biotechnology. Past and present members of the SIVB should take great pride in this fact. Moreover, current methods in genome manipulation are absolutely dependent on the ability to generate and isolate genetic variants using in vitro methods – so there is still much to do.
My first experience with somatic cell genetics of higher plants was as a botany student in the classroom of Professor Phil Ammirato at Rutgers University who, in 1973, literally mesmerized me with the concept of cellular totipotency. During my academic career (at Rutgers University, University of Maryland and University of Kentucky), I had the good fortune of being exposed to several great teachers including plant tissue culturists such as Paul Botino (an outstanding teacher) and Glenn Collins (a great mentor) as well as plant physiologists such as Eileen Brennan (who taught me how to read scientific papers), Ida Leone (who taught me how to write them) and Charlie Mulchi (who taught me not to take myself too seriously). Although I had great teachers, my education was mostly molded by fellow students such as John Troiano, George Koslow, Joe De Verna and Jude Grosser – just to name a few.
I have had the great fortune of working as an industrial scientist (at United AgriSeeds and Dow AgroSciences) during an extremely exciting time in plant science – having witnessed first-hand the birth of the agricultural biotechnology industry, including the ascendancy of transgenic crops. Mostly, however, it has been the personal interactions that have made professional life so rich. Although not hereby attempting to be all-inclusive, I have been lucky to have had a stellar array of colleagues (including Jerry Ranch, Alan Gould, Dayakar Pareddy, Steve Pescitelli and Pon Samuel), a fine group of technicians (including Jean Sunega, Nicole Arnold and Tonya Strange), a demanding group of advisors (including Abe Krikorian and Nina Federoff) and some outstanding collaborators (including Larry Pelcher and Fyodor Urnov). I have also been able to enjoy teaching through adjunct appointments at IUPUI and Ivy Tech Community College.
Although I have been involved in various aspects of plant science, I consider plant cell and tissue culture to be my intellectual ‘home’ and, as such, SIVB has become an important means of communication. There are many ‘old’ friends that I have made over the years that I only see but once per year at the annual gathering of the SIVB. I value these interactions greatly as well as the opportunity to make new connections with younger colleagues. The SIVB is an invaluable asset for anyone interested in staying at the forefront of plant cell and tissue culture technology and I am honored to be able to serve in the role of Section Chair.
Warren Schaeffer, SIVB Emeritus Member, retired, University of Vermont
Almost thirty years ago, my then grad student, Barbara Israel, and I published two papers,
(Cytoplasmic Suppression of Malignancy; In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology 23(9):627-632, 1987 and Cytoplasmic Mediation of Malignancy; In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology 24(5):487-490,1988.) describing experiments in which delivery of a nucleus from the tumorigenic cell to the enucleated cytoplasm of a normal cell yielded phenotypically normal cells despite the fact the nucleus contained a tumor-associated genome. Conversely, delivery of a nucleus from a normal cell to the enucleated cytoplasm of a tumorigenic cell yielded phenotypically tumorigenic cells, despite the presence of the normal genome. Thus, in all cases, it was the cytoplasm which was the determinant of tumorigenicity. The cell cultures were developed in our laboratory and all of which were originally derived from a single cloned normal cell and followed sequentially ever since.
These results were also part of a renewal of my NIH grant. Based on our results, we came to the conclusion that the mitochondria were responsible for the results. The grant reviewers dismissed this as a possibility because, as they said: “…the prokaryotic mitochondria could not have communicated with the eukaryotic nucleus”. Thus, even with convincing experimental data, and having an outside review, which agreed with our conclusions, bucking the dogma of the somatic mutation theory of cancer, at that time, was not to be permitted and so the renewal was denied.
Despite some evidence then and conclusively, in the years since, that indeed, not only communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus is possible but also genetic exchange occurs normally, the issue has remained closed and our papers essentially remained ignored.
That is, until recently, when out of the blue, I received an email from a life time fitness person, Travis Christopherson, who is writing a book on cancer as a metabolic disease and wants to feature our work. He learned of our work through contact with Dr. Thomas Seyfried, a well-known nutritionist and neurologist at Boston College whose recently published book, “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease”, prominently features our reconstructed cell data and uses it to back up the nutritional concept, namely, that a disruption of sugar metabolism in the cell (mark that a mitochondrial defect) ultimately leads to cellular, metabolic and genomic instability and, eventually, downstream, cancer. The nutritional etiology theory (also called the Warburg Effect) is not new and stems back to the 1920’s with the work of Otto Warburg who proposed the role of dysfunctional mitochondria in cancer . Dr. Seyfried suggested that despite the fact that others had, over the ensuing years, published similar findings, our experimental results, because of the extreme characterization of the cell cultures used, were considered the more scientifically relevant.
Thus, after almost three decades, our research had been rediscovered! To quote Dr. Seyfried, in his recently published book: “….The origin of carcinogenesis resides with the mitochondria in the cytoplasm, not with the genome in the nucleus. How is it possible that so many in the cancer field seem unaware of the evidence supporting this concept? How is it possible that so many in the cancer field have ignored these findings while embracing the flawed gene theory? Perhaps Payton Rous was correct when he mentioned “The somatic mutation theory acts like a tranquilizer on those who believe it”. I attribute the absence of any real progress in the war on cancer over the last 40 years, to the flawed concepts of the somatic mutation theory, and to the failure in recognizing mitochondrial dysfunction as a credible scientific explanation for the origin of the disease. This failure is an inexcusable tragedy ultimately responsible for the deaths of millions of cancer patients.”
Yes, it is “late in the day” but just sometimes, even if it is late in your career, or even after retirement, things can turn around; late, yes, but vindication is always sweet!