Kathryn Barton attended elementary school in Oak Park, Ill and grades 6 through high school (Humanistiska Linjen) in Göteborg and Mölndal, Sweden. In 1978 she returned to the United States to attend college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was inspired to study genetics and developmental biology by undergraduate coursework she took at the UW. In particular the Biocore curriculum, a two-year, in depth survey course, was influential. In addition to offering excellent lectures by faculty experts, this course afforded her the opportunity to pursue an independent laboratory project in William Engels’ lab in the Department of Genetics. Her project was to estimate the rate of new P element insertion on the X chromosome in a hybrid dysgenic Drosophila. Other undergraduate lab work included dishwashing in a Department of Plant Pathology lab and fieldwork for maize geneticist Jerry Kermicle. She received her B.S. in Molecular Biology in 1983.
She did graduate research in Dr. Judith Kimble’s lab, also at the University of Wisconsin. There, she worked to understand how hermaphrodites of the nematode worm C. elegans make two kinds of germ cells, sperm and eggs. This work helped identify three genes - FEM3, FOG1 and GLD1 - that direct germ cells down either a sperm or an oocyte pathway of development. She received her Ph.D. in Genetics in 1989.
In 1989, she began postdoctoral work in plant biology in Dr. Scott Poethig’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania. There she isolated Arabidopsis mutants – SHOOTMERISTEMLESS, TOPLESS and PINHEAD/AGO10 - with defects in the shoot apical meristem. Among these were mutants that entirely lacked a shoot apical meristem but had near normal cotyledons. This established that it was possible to separate the process of cotyledon formation from shoot apical meristem formation. It also established the SHOOTMERISTEMLESS gene as a factor specifically required for shoot apical meristem formation in the embryo. She left the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 to return to the Department of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison as a faculty member.
As an assistant, and later associate, professor she continued work on shoot apical meristem and embryo development. Her lab cloned the SHOOTMERISTEMLESS gene and showed it to be a KNOTTED like transcription factor. This cemented the understanding of the role of KNOTTED like factors in meristem formation and maintenance. Mutations in the BOBBER gene (later shown to encode a heat shock factor) were shown to limit the extent of SHOOTMERISTEMLESS RNA expression to meristematic cells. Her lab also identified a novel dominant mutation (called phabulosa-1d) affecting leaf polarity and showed this to be due to a mutation in a member of the plant HomeoDomain Leucine Zipper gene family. Besides being important in understanding the establishment of leaf polarity, these mutations were later useful in establishing the role of small RNAs in leaf development.
She became affiliated with Stanford Biology in 2001 when her lab moved to the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology (located on the Stanford campus).. There, her lab continues to study the genetic control of shoot apical meristem function and the establishment of leaf polarity using molecular genetics. (See Research Description for details.)
She pursues teaching in a variety of formats. At Carnegie DPB she has helped run the Summer Intern Research Program for students interested in trying their hand at plant research. (Interested students should see the link at https://dpb.carnegiescience.edu/education/summer-internship-program). She teaches a freshman seminar on Hunger at Stanford. She guest lectures at area high schools. She writes a blog called Vanishing Bananas (www.vanishingbananas.blogspot.com) on various fun observations made on plants inside and outside the lab.
Associate Professor, Biology
Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations
Board Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (2014 - Present)
Board Member, International Plant Molecular Biology Board (2013 - Present)
Standing Member, Molecular Genetics B Study Section, NIH (2012 - Present)
B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison, Molecular Biology (1983)
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, Genetics (1989)