Decoding plant genome was the first topic of the Contemporary Chemistry lecture series

Jaroslav Doležel, a plant geneticist, commenced the 14th year of the Contemporary Chemistry lecture series with a talk on plant genetic information and its decoding. Contemporary Chemistry is regularly organized at the Faculty of Science under the aegis of Pavel Hobza, a highly cited world-renowned researcher and a Česká hlava 2008 honoree. The goal for this year is to promote science in Olomouc and its leading representatives.

“In the previous years I would invite scientists from all around the Czech Republic as well as abroad to tackle issues related to their fields. However, I realized the importance of promoting science in Olomouc, highlighting its outstanding qualities. There are three research centres at the university, which have made an incredible progress since they were established. It only makes sense that three out of the four guest speakers are based at these centres,” said Pavel Hobza.

Jaroslav Doležel represented the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research. He acts as a scientific director of the centre while also leading the Olomouc division of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Together with his team, he contributed to decoding the genome of barley, banana, and bread wheat. The Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium with Olomouc’s participation presented the first fully annotated reference genome for bread wheat in its paper in the journal Science. At the end of the year 2018, the year of the discovery, Jaroslav Doležel became a Česká hlava 2018—the most prestigious Czech science award—honoree. In his lecture, Prof. Doležel described the long journey that led to this remarkable achievement. Further to this, he explained to the audience how vital it is to focus on plant genomes in general. This particular knowledge is essential to adapting our crops to new environments, making them hardier with respect to pests, diseases, or drought.

“Ensuring sufficient amount of produce seems problematic in the long run. For instance, this year we’ll consume more than we’ve harvested. The world’s population is spiralling and dying of hunger is still more common than falling victim to malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis. That is why new methods for crop cultivation are vital, and will enable us to gain plants with the desired properties. Such methods are based on genetic manipulation of plants, thus requiring the knowledge of plant genomes. Unfortunately, Europe is not open to employing them,” said Doležel. In his talk, he also explained the complexity of plant genomes and the method for sorting chromosomes by flow cytometry, which was developed and is used on a daily basis solely in Olomouc. In addition, he focused on BAC library construction that will enable to decode longer sequences of genetic information. Other challenges that the researchers need to overcome were mentioned too.

“Resting on your laurels will never work, especially in science. You can either carry on experimenting or end up stagnating. We’ve made our choice; there’s no room for feeling satisfied,” added Doležel.

The whole lecture series will continue on March 6. Radek Zbořil, Director of the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials, will talk about carbon nanostructures. Marián Hajdúch, Director of the Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine, will be the third to deliver his talk, and Pavel Šaradín, the Faculty of Arts, will conclude the series on March 27.