New model organisms are the Cream of the crop in plant genetics research

1 October 2016
When it comes to economically important agricultural applications of biological research, it’s important that scientists use model organisms that allow results to be easily translated from lab to field. VIB’s Plant Systems Biology department in Ghent focuses on conducting plant biology research for the development of superior crops that are able to grow in different climates and under many chemical conditions – and the best way to do so is by using wheat and tomatoes as model organisms.

Closing the gap between lab and field with wheat and tomatoes
To maximize efficiency and effectiveness, direct research into economically important food crops
should be as quick and painless as possible, which makes it ideal for scientists to use actual crops in
their experiments. Although no fully sequenced wheat genomes are available because of their
complexity, genetic research using wheat is highly relevant to our understanding of gene
expression in grains. Like other grains, wheat is an example of an allopolyploid plant, which is a
plant with a genome that contains chromosomes derived from multiple species. Wheat is also very
sensitive to changes in the environment, which has a huge impact on crop production — and makes
wheat research vital to the agricultural industry worldwide.

The tomato also makes a great model organism, but in different research applications, especially
for studies on other popular plants in the Solanaceae family including potatoes, eggplants and peppers. Research using tomatoes focuses on fruit development and maturation in order to understand chemical changes that lead to improved taste and nutrition through genome editing. Tomatoes were chosen because they contain a wide range of metabolites that impact taste and nutrition. Although it is possible to obtain gene edited tomatoes, it is a labor-intensive process. As a result, it’s more feasible to get these varieties through root culture transformation and transient gene expression in fruit.


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