The Science Behind Clonal Reproduction in Crops

Arabis thaliana Sturm6
A diagram of the Arabidopsis thalian, or Thale Cress plant
Image from Wikimedia Commons

In this day and age, technology and science are coming together to bring ideas once thought impossible to life, such as cloning. While cloning the perfect human speciman is a long way down the road, there are many other ways to integrate cloning and use it to our advantage; one such field that is experimenting with clonal reproduction is farming and agriculture. Before getting into the depths of how crops can be cloned, let us begin with the basics. Mitosis is the replication of somatic cells into two identical daughter cells. Since the DNA is replicated(during interphase) prior to the splitting of the nucleus, both daughter cells have the same amount of DNA as the parent cells. Meiosis is also cell division, but it is only used specifically in the creation of gametes (sex cells). Meiosis has two parts; the first phase is exactly that same as mitosis. The differences become apparent in the second step, since Meiosis II splits the cells once again. The resulting gametes only have half the DNA of the parent cell, and the result in either four sperm cells or one egg cell. Unlike mitosis, whose daughter cells are essentially clones of the parents cells, sex cells all contain varied DNA due to the process of crossing over. During crossing over, the mother’s DNA and fathers DNA exchange genetic material, in order to ensure variation in the offspring (because of this, no two sex cells are the same). While this trait is quite helpful in the human world to create and maintain a variation of people in the population, agricultural scientists are trying to figure out how to clone their best plants in order to ensure a bountiful harvest of large, healthy crop.In order to recreate this process, the process of meiosis is essentially replaced with mitosis, which would cause the resulting sex cells to be identical copies of the parents. A new study in France and Austria by Rafael Mercier suggests that it is possible to experimentally combine mutations that inhibit the entrance of Meiosis II during the sex cycle. In the sex cells of the thale cress plant, there are three genes that cause meiosis to occur. By altering these genes through the use of mutations, it is possible for the meiosis parts to be replaced with mitotic division. Each of the three mutations has a unique function; the first one controls the entry into Meiosis II, the second one eliminates recombination (this gets rid of genetic variation), and the third one modifies chromosome segregation. By combining these three mutations, scientists have created a new strain of plants called MiMe (stands for “Mitosis instead of Meiosis”). These MiMe plants create gametes that contain the same genes as the parent chromosomes. Although this experiment is not quite the actual cloning of plants, it is a huge step forward in the scientific community and will pave the way for future discoveries to eventually achieve the goal of clonal reproduction. In my opinion, this experiment makes biology seem more realistic and approachable instead of just inert facts and concepts. It is really interesting to see how the knowledge of biological processes such as Meiosis is used in real world scenarios, and how this information is used to modify organisms and defy nature.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

This entry was written by Aiswariya R. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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