From Peas to PCR!
Our present day understanding of the basis of genetics was largely unravelled by Gregor Mendel’s study of pea plants over one hundred years ago. In recent years, the techniques of molecular biology have opened up our understanding of how plants evolve, develop, and can be used as crops and even as pharmaceutical factories.
The first plant genome to be sequenced in 2000 was that of the humblest member of the Brassicacea
family, Arabidopsis thaliana. As with its animal counterpart, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster
has been used to unravel the molecular genetics of the plant kingdom.
Similar to Drosophila
, many thousands of Arabidopsis
mutants are available for scientists to study and understand how plant genes function. These studies have not only contributed to the controversial developments of GM plants for food, but also to plants for producing medicines, and plants to supplement people’s diets in the developing world. They have also allowed horticulturists to develop new varieties for gardeners. A new classification of plants has emerged with the molecular basis supplementing morphological systems of classification.
The future of plant genetics is likely to remain controversial but with the current interest in climate change fueling speculation over what best to use as carbon sinks, perhaps a new chapter will emerge for nature’s very own carbon sinks – plants. And who said plants were boring?
Engage your students with some of the key techniques of molecular biology that are changing the way we view and use plants. From growing mutants to tissue culture to PCR, we have something for you to try out in your classroom.