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Arabidopsis - A Plant Genome Project - Nifty 50

Arabidopsis - A Plant Genome Project

With NSF support, biologists today are mapping all of the genes of a model organism identifying the sequence and location of each gene.

Scientists have already made fundamental discoveries that may lead to the development of improved crops and plant-based products. NSF began working with leaders in plant biology in the 1980s to foster a spirit of cooperation and to encourage the use of the model plant in research.

In 1990, NSF led a multi-agency, multinational project to identify all the genes in Arabidopsis thaliana (and thus to create a genetic road map to flowering plants) by the end of 2000.

Why Arabidopsis?

The general belief is the Arabidopsis thaliana is so similar to most other plants that when properties of it are found, those properties likely exist in all other flowering plants. NSF researchers expect that by analyzing the structure and functions of genes in Arabidopsis thaliana, they are laying the groundwork for studying the biology of all other plant species.


What NSF and researchers have learned so far includes:

  • Disease resistance.
    Some plants are more resistant than others to viral, bacterial or fungal diseases. Identification of specific disease-resistant genes likely will allow for increased numbers of plants that are resistant to disease.
  • Environmental response.
    Changes in response to light, temperature, water availability, salinity, air quality and other environmental factors. Genes for cold tolerance have been identified.
  • Plant hormone response.
    Scientists have discovered how the plant hormone, ethylene, affects a wide variety of plant processes, including the ripening of fruit, wilting of flowers and changing of leaves' color.
  • Commercial applications.
    Similarities in many plants allow manipulation of grains, fruits and flowers to eventually create improved crops and novel, plant-based products, including biodegradable plastics produced in crops and improved and higher quality vegetable oil with reduced polyunsaturated fat.

Original publication date: April 2000

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