Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The fruit fly of the plant world


A tiny plant with a big name? I don't think so. This image is from the Nature site.

I was amused to read the headline and lead sentence for a story on the latest genetic mapping of Arabiodopsis thaliana. This is the non-descript plant from the Brassicaceae family (once known as the Cruciferae, and including agricultural staples such as cabbage, turnips and canola), which has been analysed and manipulated in much the same way as the poor old fruit fly.
The story from the Carnegie Insitution for Science was headed 'Midget plant gets makeover'. So I immediately thought it must be about one of the really tiny flowering plants, such as the floating Wolffia - is this still considered to be the smallest flowering plant I wonder?

The start of the next line made it even more obscure: A tiny plant with a long name... Ah, one of the long named plants. You may recall I posted about this a month ago. So was it Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum?
Turns out it is neither a very small plant or a very long named plant. It's good old Arabiodopsis thaliana! But when you have to think of a new lead every time something new is discovered in this plant, it's must be a struggle.

In any case, the news item reiterated that this plant has 'helped researchers from over 120 countries learn how to design new crops to help meet increasing demands for food, biofuels, industrial materials, and new medicines'. Everything you ever wanted to know about the insides of Arabidopsis can be found in the Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR). Apparrently this site gets a few more hits than my blog - averaging over 1.6 million each month....

And the big news? The latest version of the full genome of this species has been released with stacks more information about the 33,518 genes that 'make up this tiny plant'. In case you are wondering, that's 114 new genes as well as 168 new 'pseudogenes'.

Arabidopsis was the first plant to have its genome sequenced. It's loved by experimental biologists because it grows fast and reaches maturity quickly, just like the fruit fly.

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