Blake Meyers,

PhD

Member; Professor, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri - Columbia

Great Strides, Small Steps

It makes perfect sense that Blake Meyers runs marathons.

Training for a marathon is a lot like working in plant science: you have to be patient, take a dedicated approach, and get deep satisfaction from planning and preparedness. In both disciplines, it takes time to see results, and progress is made by building on what came before.

A Field on the Brink

When Blake entered the field in 1989, the foundation had been laid and the possibilities were wide open. Molecular biology was on the cusp of amazing things. The field of science that deals with the molecules necessary to sustain life’s most essential functions was on the brink of revolution.

At the time, genome sequencing didn’t yet exist. Within a few years, however, major discoveries and advancements ushered in a new age of genomics, with amazing implications for plant scientists and agriculture at large.

Researchers like Blake began work on some of the field’s most historically ambitious goals — goals like using plants to address global food security and improve the environment.

Right Place, Right Time

By the time Blake started graduate school, molecular biology was entering its most exciting period in history. Within a few years, scientists were figuring out ways to sequence entire genomes, an advance in understanding that has staggering implications for biology.

Shortly after he graduated, he had the opportunity to work on a team that had access to the most advanced DNA sequencing equipment in the field. For the first time, it was possible to detect small-RNA relatives of DNA on a large scale, transforming our understanding of DNA.

Today, that same technology helps researchers like Blake pinpoint the precise genes associated with certain traits that could put the future they envision within reach — a future with crops that can both feed the world and heal the planet.

Helping Breeders on the Front Lines

Today, Blake and his team focus on understanding plant genomes through the types of RNA they produce. Specifically, they specialize in plant sex. (Yes, you read that right.) Their goal is to enable the hybridization of entirely new crops by understanding the mechanisms underlying pollen development.

In the world of hybrid crops, corn is the model everyone tries to follow. Within 30 years of its introduction in the early 20th century, more than 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. was hybrid. Today, nearly all of the maize planted in most parts of the world is hybrid.

The challenge of achieving hybrids, however, is that many crops self-pollinate. Blake and his team are looking for ways to prevent that, with an eye toward staple crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans.

If they’re successful, they could help breeders deliver solutions to farmers that would raise standards of living, reduce our dependence on water, protect the soil, and provide nutritious crops for communities around the world.

On the importance of plant science

"We are wholly dependent on plants. They can solve a lot of the problems we face."

Favorite thing to plant in his garden

"I grow a lot of cherry tomatoes – hybrids, of course."

Something others might not know about you

"In 1985, I competed in the U.S. National Cycling Championships."

On the importance of plant science

"We are wholly dependent on plants. They can solve a lot of the problems we face."

Favorite thing to plant in his garden

"I grow a lot of cherry tomatoes – hybrids, of course."

Something others might not know about you

"In 1985, I competed in the U.S. National Cycling Championships."

Get in touch with Dr. Meyers

Research Team
Research Summary

The Meyers laboratory uses experimental and computational approaches to study plant reproduction and fertility to enhance yield gains in crop plants.

Blake Meyers

Principal Investigator

Patricia Baldrich

Postdoctoral Associate

Sebastien Belanger

Postdoctoral Associate

Aleksandra "Sashka" Beric

Graduate Student

Kevin Cox

Postdoctoral Associate

Ryan Delpercio

Graduate Student

Ayush Dusia

Visiting Scientist

Pallavi Gupta

Graduate Student

Guna Gurazada

Visiting Scientist

Reza Hammond

Visiting Scientist

Patrick Hoff

Lab Tech

Kun Huang

Visiting Scientist

Diquan Jones

Laboratory Assistant

Rachel Jouni

Graduate Student

Atul Kakrana

Visiting Scientist

Mayumi Nakano

Scientific Manager

Parth Patel

Visiting Scientist

Suresh Pokhrel

Graduate Student

Deepti Ramachandruni

Senior Computational Scientist

Byron Rusnak

Laboratory Technician

Saleh Tamim

Visiting Scientist

Chong Teng

Postdoctoral Associate

Junpeng Zhan

Visiting Scientist

Blake Meyers

Principal Investigator

Patricia Baldrich

Postdoctoral Associate

Sebastien Belanger

Postdoctoral Associate

Aleksandra "Sashka" Beric

Graduate Student

Kevin Cox

Postdoctoral Associate

Ryan Delpercio

Graduate Student

Ayush Dusia

Visiting Scientist

Pallavi Gupta

Graduate Student

Guna Gurazada

Visiting Scientist

Reza Hammond

Visiting Scientist

Patrick Hoff

Lab Tech

Kun Huang

Visiting Scientist

Diquan Jones

Laboratory Assistant

Rachel Jouni

Graduate Student

Atul Kakrana

Visiting Scientist

Mayumi Nakano

Scientific Manager

Parth Patel

Visiting Scientist

Suresh Pokhrel

Graduate Student

Deepti Ramachandruni

Senior Computational Scientist

Byron Rusnak

Laboratory Technician

Saleh Tamim

Visiting Scientist

Chong Teng

Postdoctoral Associate

Junpeng Zhan

Visiting Scientist

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Blake’s work focuses on genome-scale studies of RNA and components of RNA silencing pathways, emphasizing plant reproductive biology and the evolution of plant small RNAs. Blake has been involved with next-generation DNA sequencing since it’s earliest days, and he has developed a number of applications of this technology, including computational methods, that have had a deep impact on plant genomics.

With many collaborators, the Meyers lab has pioneered genomic analysis of small RNAs and their targets, working with “next-gen” sequencing technologies nearly since their invention. Their work with next-gen sequencing stretches back to ~2001, when Blake was funded by the NSF to apply “MPSS” to the analysis of gene expression in Arabidopsis. This led to the development in the Meyers lab of the first publicly-accessible browser for next-gen data. After moving to the University of Delaware in 2002, his lab continued to develop the application to mRNA and small RNA analyses of first MPSS, then 454, and finally the still-current Illumina SBS sequencing. In 2005, with collaborator Pam Green, his lab was the first to perform large-scale, genome-wide analysis of small RNAs, and in 2008, the Green and Meyers labs co-developed a new and widely adopted method for the genome-wide analysis of cleaved mRNAs. The Meyers lab has extensively applied these methods to study plant genomes and their RNA products, and the lab continues to develop and apply novel informatics approaches for the analysis of RNA function in plants.

Specific areas of research include the use of these technologies to assess small RNA function and biogenesis in a broad range of plants, including Arabidopsis, maize, soybean, rice, and diverse other species. These data are being used to identify novel transcripts, to study small RNAs, microRNA targets, alternatively-polyadenylated transcripts, non-coding RNAs and gene silencing. The data are being analyzed to determine patterns of gene expression under different developmental conditions, for example to identify tissue-specific gene expression.More recently, work in the Meyers lab focuses on phased secondary siRNAs in plants, including their function, evolution, and biogenesis. They have also created and actively curate several databases with query & analysis tools to enable the use of these data for the scientific community.

The Meyers lab also studies disease resistance genes in plants, building on research Blake pursued before starting his own lab. These genes provide the first line of defense in many plant-pathogen interactions. In 2011, Blake’s lab published the first of many papers connecting these genes to small RNA regulation. This work describes sequence variation, function, and evolution in this class of genes, as well as that of the microRNAs that act as “master regulators” via direct and indirect targeting of many disease resistance gene families.