The model plant to protect the health of all plants

Arabidopsis thaliana illuminated with natural light in the field

Credit: Cesar Martinez Amor / GettyImages

Arabidopsis thaliana is one of the most powerful tools available to plant scientists to protect the health of the plants on which we all depend.

Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as thale cress or rockcress, is a small plant closely related to mustard and cabbage. Arabidopsis is not grown for food or for its flowers, or because it provides something useful like cotton or oil, yet it is grown in large numbers all over the world. But why?

Its small size, quick growth and relatively simple genome makes Arabidopsis one of the most powerful tools available to plant scientists to protect the health of the plants on which we all depend.

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has supported research in Arabidopsis for many years, and early investments helped to establish the UK Arabidopsis research community.

Every year, the global Arabidopsis research community generates huge numbers of Arabidopsis varieties and mutants, and makes them available to researchers all over the world.

The formidable task of managing these seed stocks is led by the Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre and its sister centre in the USA.

Model species

Arabidopsis is what scientists call a model species, it is:

  • easy to study
  • closely related to many different economically important species, such as oilseed and broccoli
  • discoveries made using Arabidopsis can be transferred to many different crops and other economically valuable species.

For instance, by understanding how Arabidopsis responds to environmental stress, pests and diseases, researchers can look for similar responses and associated genes in crop species.

That information can then be used by crop breeders to create new crop varieties better adapted to thrive in our changing climate.

BBSRC funded researchers are using Arabidopsis to investigate all sorts of different species, from growing better willow trees for bioenergy to lettuces adapted to growing in warmer temperatures.

Last updated: 13 April 2021

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