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Research perspectives

Dr. R. A. Savidge savidge at unb.ca
Thu Apr 27 08:07:22 EST 1995


Hello,

This is not intended to be a `bitter pill' or a harangue, rather a search
for proper perspective concerning the usefulness of molecular biology
research into Arabidopsis spp.  As a university instructor, I am not able
to explain to undergraduates what the justification is for tinkering with
the genetic makeup of a `weed', particulary when there are so many more
immediate problems that need to be solved in the plant sciences.

I understand that Arabidopsis has 4 chromosomes only, that it produces
roots, shoots, leaves and flowers similar to other dicots, and that there
exists a seed bank for many different varieties, all of which are
conducive to progress.  Hence, I vaguely appreciate the argument that
relatively rapid mapping or engineering of the chromosomes of this genus
can be achieved and that this will set the stage for improving crop plants
that are genetically more complex.

But the logic seems to break down at this point.    Can anyone respond to
the following arguments and comments cogently?

1)  The additional chromosomes in most crop plants surely have something
to do with their being useful to man.  Research into a genetically
limited non-crop weed is, therefore, simplistically misguided and a waste
of money.

2) Projecting genetic findings made with Arabidopsis to other plant species
is only valid upward through the evolutionary tree.  The research probably
is of minimal usefulness when projected down to more primitive or
non-annual dicots, and it is unlikely to have any value outside of the
angiosperms.

3) If the goal is to understand aspects of plant physiology that are
general to the majority of the species in the plant kingdom, an
evolutionarily much simpler system should become the model.  For example,
there are mosses that also have only four chromosomes.  There are algae,
liverworts, horsetails, ferns, etc. all of which are likely to yield a
better genetic foundation for future progress than that which can be
obtained through Arabidopsis research.

I'm a dunce when it comes to genetics, so I'd be very grateful to receive
responses to the above and any additional explanations of the assumptions
underlying the Arabidopsis research program.  Thanks in advance!
**********************************************************************
   Rod Savidge, PhD                 |         E-mail: savidge at unb.ca
   Faculty of Forestry and         \|/
      Environmental Management  \   |   /     Phone:  (506) 453-4919
   University of New Brunswick  _\/ | \/_
   Fredericton, NB CANADA          \|/        Fax:    (506) 453-3538
   E3B 6C2                          |



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