Jorge Marques Signes, New Genomics Group Leader, Likes His Research on the Edge

DHMRI’s new Genomics Laboratory Group Leader Jorge Marques Signes brings a passion for teamwork and discovery that keeps him on the edge of research and innovation while strengthening the institute’s focus on biomarkers, method development and collaboration.

The road from Valencia, Spain to Kannapolis, NC is a long one. For Jorge Marques Signes, PhD, it has prepared him well for the job of Genomics Laboratory Group Leader at the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI).

“What I like about the DHMRI is that we are producing real, translatable results,” he said.

“We have skilled professionals who work here and the emphasis is on teamwork and developing new protocols and methods.”

Teamwork and establishing new protocols for the latest technologies defines Marques Signes’ career. His first experience came during his doctoral work at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. He studied brittle leaf disease in date palms, a research challenge with economic importance to the Spanish National Research Council and the North African country of Tunisia. Tunisian date palm trees were being devastated by the disease. The dates were imported by Spain and highly desired throughout Europe.

Through five years of field trials and lab experiments, he applied the latest techniques in microscopy, proteomics and genomics to study the etiology and the molecular basis of the disease. As part of a larger research team, he found that date palms with brittle leaf disease were low in magnesium. After ruling out other causes, a family of bacteria with members that oxidized magnesium was found in the root microbiota associated with the affected plants. Marques Signes developed biomarkers that allowed him to deploy a protocol to predict which trees would become sick and inject them with magnesium as a preventative measure.

After finishing his doctorate in 2011, he accepted a position in the Department of Biology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina working with a preeminent researcher in plant immunology.

Marques Signes’ experience at Duke impressed DHMRI Genomics Laboratory Director Simon Gregory, PhD: “We’re excited to have Jorge as our new group leader of the Genomics Laboratory. Jorge comes to the DHMRI from a post-doc in the lab of Dr. Xinnian Dong at Duke where he worked on plant-microbe interactions, adapting next generation sequencing approaches and using genome editing techniques towards understanding molecular mechanisms of diseases in plants.”

“My years at Duke,” Marques Signes added, “gave me experience in next generation sequencing and library preparation. The challenge was that while I was working with plants, I only had mammalian cell culture techniques to work with. For example, I developed a protocol for double strand break sequencing in plants drawn from a processes designed for mammals.”

Steven Colman, PhD, DHMRI Chief Operating Officer commented, “Jorge’s expertise in both plant biology and microbiome research makes him an excellent addition to the DHMRI and to the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC).”

Marques Signes is meeting scientists on and off the NCRC who collaborate with DHMRI. The relationships are allowing him to lead his team as they develop new protocols using Illumina and Pacific Biosciences platforms and to help coordinate projects across DHMRI laboratories from proteomics and metabolomics to bioinformatics. 

“I’m motivated by teamwork and how dynamic and versatile DHMRI is, and I’m intrigued by the challenges that researchers present us,” he emphasized. “One moment I’m talking about an innovative project with carrot, and the next, we’re looking at new ways to address a human disease. It keeps me right on the edge of new technologies and discovery.”

Learn more about the DHMRI Genomics Laboratory.

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