Science Cafe: Sex Art and Genes

February 2017

Professor Phil Gilmartin
UEA and John Innes – Professor of Sciences.

A fascinating talk about the PRIMULA VULGARIS – Common Primrose, and PRIMULA VERIS (Common Cowslip) which have two different and distinct styles of reproduction
PIN FORM – a long pin like stamen with male pistils are half way down
THURM FORM – Thrum is a weaving term, frayed end of a piece of tweed – stamen short with male pistils at the top
The differing lengths of stamens and pistils are adapted for pollination. Pollen originating in a long stamen will reach primarily long rather than short pistils, and vice versa. When pollen is transferred between two flowers of the same type, no fertilisation will take place, because of the self-incompatibility mechanism.

Called heterostyly – the condition of having styles to reduce self-fertilization.
50/50 – the two types are spread evenly among the 400 species

Acknowledged by Darwin, but described by plant illustrators/engravers 100 years previous – as we can see from their beautiful detailed drawings!

Genome of entire Primula now sequenced and there are 5 genes absent with the Pin genome.

Other plants have similar mechanisms to prevent self fertilisation
eg Dandelion – the male part matures earlier than the female, so prevents self fertilisation.

Professor Colwyn Thomas
Plant Breeding

We are going to have to double food production by 2050. How? It requires radical development in agronomy.
The resurgence of Mendleson’s genetics – which had become unpopular was led by Rowland Biffen, appointed the first professor of agricultural botany at Cambridge 1908 till 1931. He was the first director of the Plant Breeding Institute, which became part of the John Innes Centre in 1994, and was an early proponent of using genetics to improve crop plants. Early in his career he traveled to the Americas to study rubber but his primary research plant was wheat. Among the most important wheat varieties he bred were Little Joss and Yeoman.

eg Drarf Wheat – more efficient, less straw, more grain, transformed the green revolutions in China, India etc.
Drawbacks: require fertilisers, use of chemicals, and slow process

Use of WILD VARITIES to add to the mix, greater disease resistance eg Russia exotic germplasm

GM – eg herbicide resistance – takes shorter time.
Plant breading = 12 years to GM 1 year.

Gene Editing – is this GM or not? eg Broccoli, antibiotic resistant gene – what human effect? there are ways around.

Terminator gene – developed by Monsanto but never came to market, although it damaged Monsanto fatally.

Biodiversity? Market demand to have a crop that is the same, harvest the same time, etc. But nature abhors mono culture. Disease, changes in climate etc not adapted to.

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