When leaves form on the stem of a plant they may look symmetrical, but in reality, they’re not. By studying patterns of the plant hormone auxin, researchers have discovered that auxin concentrations cause asymmetry at the molecular and anatomical levels, altering gene expression and leaf shape. In this way, the plant produces the leaf shape and orientation it needs to survive. This research offers an opportunity to examine the mechanisms plants use to produce an immense variety of leaf shapes in predictable arrangements. One of the plants used in this research was the weed Arabidopsis. Back in 1990, NSF joined with other U.S. federal agencies to launch the Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Research Project. The initiative required international collaboration and fostered advances that revolutionized plant science including sequencing the entire Arabidopsis genome. This was the first plant genome sequenced and it emerged as the plant counterpart to the lab mouse since it served as a model for over 250,000 plant species.
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