Corn and Mustard Plants
Model Organisms
Phage Plants Nematode Fly Rodents Humans

Maize (Zea mays)
corn cobCorn is a classic model organism and an important crop plant. Together with the fruit fly Drosophila, it was one of the first genetic models, and many of the earliest important discoveries were made with these two model organisms. With maize, Barbara McClintock discovered "jumping genes" (genetic material that can change its location on the genome), in part because she could very clearly see the patterns of genetic traits carried in the individual kernels.

On maize as a model organism:
"One of the advantages of corn is also that the endosperm of the kernel–the juicy part you eat when you eat corn on the cob–is actually extremely informative. Each kernel is the result of a different cross, and so they will have different genetic properties. One of the mutations that we look at, that we are interested in, is linked to a mutation that causes this white kernel phenotype. So I can just pick seeds that have this white endosperm, and I know that they will be showing my mutant plant phenotype of interest."

Marja Timmermans, Research biologist, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

To learn more about using corn (maize) as a model organism, visit the Maize Page, published by the College of Agriculture at the University of Iowa.

Wall cress (Arabidopsis thaliana)
mustard plantArabidopsis thaliana is a small flowering plant in the mustard family. It has a very fast generation time, about six weeks, and was the first plant to have its genome sequenced. It’s widely used to study plant development, mutations, and basic biology. Relative to many other plants, Arabidopsis has a small number of genes, and they can be manipulated easily and quickly. Essentially a weed, it’s easy to pollinate, generates lots of seeds, and can be grown year-round.

On Arabidopsis as a model organism:
"The combination of corn as a genetic organism and all the great advantages it has as a genetic system, is very well supplemented with also looking at Arabidopsis, which has a lot of molecular biology and genomics tools available to us. These days, we like to actually combine a variety of model species, and combine the advantages of these two different systems together."

Marja Timmermans, Research biologist, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

To learn more about using Arabidopsis as a model organism, visit The Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR).



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