Flowers are easily the most variable organs of flowering plants (hence the name), and botanists are interested in the mfor a variety of reasons, not least because of their value in systematics (my field). The great diversity of floral forms makes for lots of information as to what plants are closely related. A lot of work has been done in genetics on what determines the identities of the organs in a flower (why one the flowers of one species have both male and female reproductive parts while others have only one or the other, for example). More recent work has begun to focus on how the shapes of flowers are genetically determined, and more specifically, their symmetry. But what do botanists mean by 'symmetry'?
Arabidopsis thaliana (pictured) is the dry erase board of plant biology; which is to say it's a good model organism. We know a lot about it, not because it's particularly useful or interesting to humans, but because it's very easy to study. It has a short life cycle (six weeks), it's allegedly easy to grow (although I, personally, suck at it), you can grow a lot of it in a very limited amount of space, it has a small, fully-sequenced genome and it self-fertilizes. A paper published in last week's Nature explores how Arabidopsis' capacity for self-fertilization evolved.
Today is the 185th birthday of Thomas Henry Huxley, pioneer in animal systematics and comparative anatomy. He was known as Darwin's Bulldog for his spirited, passionate, often sarcastic and witty defence of the latter's theory of evolution by natural selection, which the reader may be familiar with. In fact, of all Darwin's contemporary defenders, Huxley is widely considered to be the hottest.
Please form one line, no pushing.