Understanding and integrating plant mechanisms to discover the rules of plant success

Plants have evolved to become the most successful life form on the planet.  

Prune off a branch and a new one will grow. Take a cutting and watch it grow roots.  

A plant growing on an exposed headland can look quite different from a plant of the same species growing in a sheltered position among the dunes, even when genetically identical. Plants can rapidly evolve in response to their environment.  

Our horizon goal is to create a model, or models, for all food crops, including those with very long life cycles—for example, tree crops such as nuts and citrus—where breeding takes many years.  

These models will enable our goal of predicting a plant’s observable traits, or phenotype, from its DNA, its environment and how it is managed on the farm.

Extrapolating from one plant species to another

Through understanding the mechanisms and networks in multiple plant species, and how they have evolved, we will learn how much of this is transferable to other species.   

With the mango, for example, we know how it responds to changes in temperature, but we still don’t know how it responds to changes in day length—such experimentation on long-lived tree species can be very difficult. But by looking at the DNA of another plant, we may be able to identify the most likely strategy that is occurring in the mango. 

In this way, transferring our knowledge from one species to another, we should be able to predict what mechanisms and networks are most likely to be at play in a given plant species.