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Farmers throughout the world spend an estimated $36 billion a year to buy seeds for crops, especially those with sought after traits such as hardiness and pest-resistance. They can't grow these seeds themselves because the very act of sexual reproduction erases many of those carefully selected traits. So year after year, farmers must purchase new supplies of specially-produced seeds.
This problem is sidestepped by some plantssuch as dandelions and poplar treesthat reproduce asexually by essentially cloning themselves. Jean-Philippe Vielle-Calzada, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar, wondered whether he could learn enough about the genetics of asexual reproduction to apply it to plants that produce sexually. In an advance online publication in Nature on March 7, 2010, Vielle-Calzada and his colleagues report that they have moved a step closer to turning sexually-reproducing plants into asexual reproducers, a finding that could have profound implications for agriculture.
"Agricultural companies and farmers around the world have a tremendous interest in this method," says Vielle-Calzada, a plant researcher at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute in Irapuato, Mexico. "It would allow them to simplify the labor-intensive cross-hybridization methods they now use to produce hearty seeds with desirable traits."
As with animals, sexually-reproduction in plants involves the generation of male and female gametes that each carry half of the organism's genes. Flowering plants exhibit the most advanced form of sexual plant reproduction, producing pollen-derived sperm cells that join with egg cells to produce seeds. Each seed, then, is genetically unique. There are several types of asexual reproduction in plants, but all produce the sa
|Contact: Andrea Widener|
Howard Hughes Medical Institute