"Thale cress", "mouse-ear cress" or "A Drosophila for the plant kingdom"
Arabidopsis is just a little weed that you'll find in borders and pavements in the UK and elsewhere. It is now the leading model species for plant biology: it has many of the features of "interesting" plants but it is much easier to use in research, due to its small size (leaves 1-5 cm long) and rapid growth (life cycle of 6-8 weeks). Most importantly, many scientists around the world are studying this plant and sharing their results. Many mutant lines have been identified and are now being used to address all kinds of questions. The gene affected by a mutation can be cloned relatively easily, which is facilitated by the small genome (125 million base pairs of DNA, similar to the fruit fly Drosophila, ~3% of human). The DNA sequence of the genome was completed by a multinational consortium in December 2000, the first of any higher plant. The sequence is extremely useful in understanding plant biology.
We study many mutants of Arabidopsis, especially those with altered circadian clocks, named toc1, tic, elf3 and elf4. We created transgenic plants containing fusions between regulatory regions of Arabidopsis genes and the firefly luciferase gene. The bioluminescence of these transgenic plants reflects the rhythmic patterns of gene regulation. Video imaging of the bioluminescence allowed us and others to find mutants with altered gene regulation, including clock mutants.
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