Chamomile is a medicinal plant used mainly in the treatment of stomach and intestinal diseases, including the field of veterinary medicine. Agricultural scientist Bettina Fhnrich from the Institute of Animal Nutrition and Functional Plant Compounds has been focusing on the genetics of chamomile (Matricaria recutita). She has been looking for chamomile varieties with a triploid (threefold) set of chromosomes instead of the natural diploid (double) set. Plants with the triploid form produce blooms that last longer and have a longer harvesting period. An additional advantage of a triploid variety of chamomile is that most of the seeds produced would be sterile. This slows down the reproductive cycle so that the plant would not germinate in the following season, when the farmer wants to grow another crop in the field. This means less chamomile has to be removed as a weed in subsequent years. But finding such a triploid variety did not turn out to be an easy task.
Chamomile is genetically conservative
Many plants change their number of chromosomes spontaneously and naturally it's an evolutionary process that enables them to adapt to external circumstances. Not so with chamomile, however. "It is very difficult to do research on chamomile because this species is rather conservative, in genetic terms. That means that it doesn't change its genetics easily. Other plants are much more flexible," Fhnrich explains. Producing triploid chromosome sets has become common practice when cultivating ornamental plants such as marigolds and begonias, but it proved harder in chamomile.
Developing a suitable chamomile cultivar
In the hope of finding one of these elusive triploid chamomiles, the scientists searched for spontaneous triploids in different varieties of the plant. Since the number of sets of chromosomes in plants can vary, the researchers hoped to find a triploid variety among them. However, when they screened natur
|Contact: Heike Hochhauser|
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna