John Bowman, Genetic Biologist
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John Bowman, Genetic Biologist

Most of the things that people grow
in their garden for beautiful flowers are just mutants and
what you give your loved one on Valentine’s day is some horrible homeotic mutant in which all the sex organs have been
converted to petals like roses should only have, in wild roses, only has five petals and so all
those extra petals came from somewhere and they came from conversions of the
sexual organs to male and female, the stamens and
carpels, into additional petals. So next time you give your loved one a rose or carnation you’re just giving them a horrible homeotic mutant for Valentine’s day. I’m originally from Montana which is in the Northern Rockies in the
United States just north of Yellowstone National Park where I grew up, but it’s cold. My parents were very avid outdoors people. We would go out all the
time and camp. Just a combination of geology and
biology and being outside I’ve always been interested in how the
diversity of the life arose and so eventually, it took me many years, but we’re coming back
to evolution now in the lab. These represent a member in the basal lineage of liverworts. You could think of it as potentially retaining some ancestral characters of what plants first looked like when they crawled on to
land. All of the plants and animals we eat, don’t look anything like what their wild ancestors do and that’s
because what we’ve done is we’ve selected particular organisms to go to
the next generation with the traits that suit humans, oftentimes not suiting their
life in the wild. The latest discovery we made with the genes
controlling the different generations, that’s actually
of interest to agriculture in general because they like
the idea of maintaining hybrid seed without sex. Most people try to think about their own life cycle we have a body that’s diploid, which
means it has two copies of every chromosome and
if you’re female you produce eggs through meiosis and eggs have a
single copy: they’re haploid, and males will produce sperm which have a single copy of the chromosomes and also being haploid, and when those two meet up again they make a zygote, a diploid cell, which eventually forms the embryo and a new
generation. In land plants, they have a diploid body that produces haploid progeny and the haploid progeny have
their own multi cellular bodies and lives. It would be as if our sperm and eggs, we produced them, they developed into multi cellular organisms and went out to a pub, met, mated, produced the next generation without our diploid bodies ever knowing. One goal would be for each farmer to produce their own hybrid seed. It’s more important for places where
there are subsistence farming if they could boost their yield by
growing hybrids and not having to purchase the hybrid seed it would be great. Until about 1900, botany and medicine were inextricably linked and that was because most of our drugs come from plants. in fact, Marchantia has secondary
compounds that are anti-microbial or anti-fungal there’s other ones that are being used as anti-cancer drugs and tested for that, and so there is this diversity of chemicals out there that nature
has already made. Hopefully it’ll eventually come full
circle again and botany will be as valued as it once was. The more we learn about how organisms are
related to one another the more we realise how almost all of our efforts in the past have been focused just on a few little lineages of life and yet there’s all kinds of diversity
out there that we didn’t really appreciate

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