Research perspectives

Thu Apr 27 11:38:07 EST 1995

Dr. Savidge 

I believe that you raise some interesting points that are not often
discussed in polite plant social circles. In the plant world, what are you
if you are not an adherent of Arabidopsism?  However, model systems
complementary to Arabidopsis, which are often relegated to footnotes, can
provide some unique possibilites for the advancement of our understanding
of plant physiology, genetics, ecology, etc. Most of these oppotunities
remain untapped and are ripe for the taking (What other cliches should I
use?). Maybe we should get a clue from the animal world in which the
extensive use of SEVERAL model systems, e.g. Drosophila, mouse, C. elegans
and zebrafish, provide an avenue to address differences and similarities
among animal systems and stimulate a rich, productive and synergistic
research environment. The plant sciences field would be heathier and more
resilient if it would embrace alternatives as well. For several years, a
small cadre of devotees have been using one of these complementary model
systems based on the homosporous fern, Ceratopteris, to study fundamental
biological problems that are very difficult or, at present, intractable to
study using Arabidopsis.  An upcoming issue of the International Journal
of Plant Sciences 156(3) will contain 6 papers that review various aspects
of using this simple model plant, the C-fern, in both research and
teaching. In addition, if you are interested in using Ceratopteris please
check out our home page (a work in progress) at 
or contact me at warne at or Les Hickok at lhickok at for
additional information. 

Thomas R. Warne

Department of Botany
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996
EMAIL: warne at

On Thu, 27 Apr 1995, Dr. R. A. Savidge wrote:

> 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
>    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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