How a little plant became a model for pioneering research

Apr 09, 2013
How a little plant became a model for pioneering research

In recent decades, research into a diminutive plant, Arabidopsis thalania, which goes through daily life as a common weed, has generated a tremendous amount of knowledge. Much of the research on Arabidopsis, which has meanwhile become the most important model for plant genetic research, has been conducted in Wageningen, where this type of research began in 1962. During his career, Professor Maarten Koornneef made a substantial contribution to this field of study. On Thursday 11 April he will retire from his personal chair in Genetics at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR.

The genetic research into Arabidopsis, a plant which has no in itself, has resulted in enormous progress in many areas of , says Koornneef in his farewell address Arabidopsis in Wageningen. In particular, this research has unravelled the molecular and that play a role in processes such as flowering and the development of organs such as embryos, seeds and roots, as well as how plants make useful substances. The knowledge that is acquired in this research can often be applied to other , including .

A good example of the benefits of genetic research in Arabidopsis, and later in rice, is the discovery of the flowering hormone florigen. Scientists had been searching for this , which functions as a general , for many years. It is created by the plant in the leaves and transported to the locations where flowers form. The small protein is coded by the FT gene; the mutant of this gene was first isolated and studied in Wageningen many years ago.

According to Koornneef, Arabidopsis became the primary model for plant due to the efficiency with which research can be conducted on this species: it has a short, non-seasonal generation time – only two months between one generation of Arabidopsis and the next (for species such as tulips, the generation time is six to seven years), the plant takes up very little space, the genome is small (the entire DNA sequence was determined in 2000) and genes are easily transferred to Arabidopsis itself as well as to other species. As a result, Arabidopsis now holds a similar role the world of plant genetics as the fruit fly (Drosophila) in insect genetics.

Fundamental research

According to Koornneef, the beneficial research climate in Wageningen is the basis for the success of Arabidopsis research. This research climate is characterised by the presence of a broad spectrum of expertise and the willingness to collaborate. Koornneef: "An important lesson from this success is that fundamental research, driven by curiosity, is also important for applied research, and that multidisciplinary research, where you look beyond the borders of your own discipline, can be very productive."

Professor Maarten Koornneef (De Lier, 1950) is currently one of the four directors of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne (Germany). In 1992 he was appointed to a personal chair in Genetics at Wageningen University, a position he has held part-time since 2004, when he began working in Cologne. Moreover, he is honorary professor at the Botanical Institute of the University of Cologne. In addition, Koornneef is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Academia Europaea, and a foreign member of the National Academy of Science of the USA, an honour that has been granted to only a few Dutch scientists. Koornneef has authored a large number of frequently cited publications. He is seen by his colleagues as a world authority in Arabidopsis research.

Explore further: The origin of the language of life

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Signal proteins for plant stem cells discovered

Mar 11, 2010

Wageningen University (The Netherlands) biochemist Dolf Weijers and his German colleagues have discovered how stem cells in a plant embryo are formed. The cells communicate with one another via the transportation of a protein, ...

Boon to plant science

Aug 30, 2010

In both plant and animal cells, protein activity is often regulated by phosphorylation, by which a phosphate group is added to one or more sites on a protein. A team led by Ken Shirasu of RIKEN Plant Science ...

Can observations of a hardy weed help feed the world?

Dec 20, 2012

As the human population increases, so too do the demands and stresses on agriculture. In the January 2013 issue of International Journal of Plant Sciences, Penn State University Waller Professor of Plant Biology Dr. Sarah ...

Little plant has big stories to tell

Aug 29, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Understanding which genes control traits, like when a plant will flower, what soil type is best or its ability to persist in drought conditions provides insight into the ability of plants ...

Recommended for you

The origin of the language of life

12 hours ago

The genetic code is the universal language of life. It describes how information is encoded in the genetic material and is the same for all organisms from simple bacteria to animals to humans. However, the ...

Quest to unravel mysteries of our gene network

Dec 18, 2014

There are roughly 27,000 genes in the human body, all but a relative few of them connected through an intricate and complex network that plays a dominant role in shaping our physiological structure and functions.

EU court clears stem cell patenting

Dec 18, 2014

A human egg used to produce stem cells but unable to develop into a viable embryo can be patented, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.