Mimulus Floweror

Mimulus Floweror

Mimulus Flower

It was an unusual name for an already unusual plant. Much like the flower, it looked like it was made of melted crayons, bright colors like a rainbow on rough, matted stems. The Mimulus flower opens later into the fall months and closes in the spring, a state called vernalization. It’s unusual because vernalization is a trait found in only a handful of flowers.The ‘Jellybean’ species is rightly named, colorful as a bag of candy with its snapdragon-like blooms in orange, yellow and white. These small, upright, free-branching shrubs have glossy dark-green narrow leaves and spread 1 to 3 feet. Large, frilly flowers abound nearly all year round. This species is particularly attractive to hummingbirds, which transfer pollen on their foreheads due to the tubular shape of the blossoms.


The revelation changed the course of Yuan's research because he realized such mutants could lead to a better understanding of flower development in all plants. Since starting a faculty job at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs 6 years ago, he has been tracking down genes that control color, shape, size, and other traits in Mimulus flowers—and that may have similar effects in other plants. And he is far from the only scientist to have fallen under the spell of a plant best known as a weed that thrives where few plants, even other weeds, can grow—around abandoned copper mines and hot springs and in other inhospitable, mineral-laden soil.Some researchers are exploring monkeyflowers' own unusual adaptations. But other scientists are turning the flowers into a window on widespread biological processes. Yuan, for example, recently teamed up with another lab to use Mimulus mutants with odd petal color patterns to provide the most detailed example yet of mathematician.

Alan Turing's scenario for how zebra stripes, leopard spots, and some floral patterns arise in nature. Another team examining how monkeyflowers mutate as they grow revealed a mechanism that may enable many plants to evolve faster than animals.Yuan and UConn postdoc Baoqing Ding had recently tracked down the gene that causes red pigment to appear on the yellow lower petal of some Mimulus flowers. The red usually appears as a band of speckles, which serve as a "nectar guide" for incoming pollinators. Many types of coloration in plants and animals are the result of a network of proteins that activate pigment genes at specific places and times in the body. But Yuan and Blackman wondered whether the monkeyflower spots might be generated instead through a patterning mechanism proposed in the 1950s by Turing, who is best known for breaking the Germans' Enigma code in World War II but was also a theoretical biologist. (Source: www.science.org)



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