When constructing a building from the ground up, sketching modified blue prints and executing precise plans are necessary in order to achieve the desired end structure. On the other hand, the assembling of biological structures in nature requires an entirely different type of planning. As opposed to employing contractors and drafting blue prints, shaping biological organs, such as flower petals, involve gene interactions. But how exactly does this work?
Scientists from the John Innes Center and the University of East Anglia have pioneered a combination of computer modeling and experimental genetics to study the complex strategy behind producing unique organs found in nature. The snapdragon flower provided these researchers with an ideal model for study.
Snapdragon flowers have a unique design that allows bees to land on the petals for easy access to pollen and nectar. Two upper petals and three lower petals form the flower’s defined shape and help form the tube and hinge of the plant. Until recently, scientists knew that the petal arrangement involved four genes, but they did not know how the genes worked in combination with each other or how the shape of the flower evolved.
Turning the flower’s growth genes off and on eventually allowed researchers to track the process of the how the genes control the overall shape. Then, they were able to utilize the computer modeling system to show how the flower generates itself through application of some basic rules. The team discovered that genes control how quickly the flowers grow and the flower’s orientation. In fact, the cells employ a type of chemical compass to give the tissues bearings and growth directions.
With new knowledge of the snapdragon’s chemical compasses, researchers hope to grasp a better understanding of the compasses work and how the plant’s “molecular magnetic poles” coordinate their orientation.
Discussion Question: What other flowers in nature have specific designs that allow for successful pollination via insects?
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