Topic review

Model systems in Plant Sciences

Subjects: Plant Sciences View times: 20
Submitted by: Emilio Cervantes


The concept of a model is an old and important one in science. According to specialists in the history of science, such as Duhem (1978) and Rossi (1986), models first appear in the English scientific tradition as the elements introduced to give connexion to a theory, to make it concrete and understandable. For example, Rossi (1986) describes how Faraday imagined a series of elastic strings to represent his model of electrostatic attraction, and this model was highly esteemed and admired by Maxwell.

In biology, the concept of model species has gained importance as a collective working strategy based in the concentration of work in a single, representative species. In this sense, a biological model is the species of any taxonomic group of living organisms that was chosen as a reference. The strategy consists in the concentration of efforts with the idea that gaining knowledge in the analysis of the model will help to understand all the elements better. The model is selected because it is representative (i.e., it has characteristics common to all elements), and because it has features that make it easier to analyse any given process. Implicit in the idea of a model is the concept of ease, but ease may be readily confused with “simplicity”.

The more work is done with the model, the better the model becomes established, and, in general, analyses of processes become easier, because much work has been done before, thus channelling further work and resulting in the generation of resources needed to simplify further analysis. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all the developmental processes or aspects will be simpler in the model than in other species.

In plants, diverse models where proposed in response to particular research interests. Thus, for monocots, maize, wheat and rice where considered models for some time. Now, the prevalent model for monocots is rice, mainly due to its smaller genome [1][2]. In legumes, pea used to be the historic model, because of broad agricultural application, relatively small genome and, being the species of Mendel experiments, but in the age of genomics, Lotus japonicus [3] and Medicago trucatula[4]  became the species of choice due to a smaller genome than pea. Other plant models selected with different purposes were: soybean, tomato, spinach and Antirrhinum, but finally Arabidopsis was imposed as the main model in plants.


  1. Stephen A Goff; Rice as a model for cereal genomics. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 1999, 2, 86-89, 10.1016/s1369-5266(99)80018-1.
  2. Stephen A. Goff; Darrell Ricke; Tien-Hung Lan; Gernot Presting; Ronglin Wang; Molly Dunn; Jane Glazebrook; Allen Sessions; Paul Oeller; Hemant Varma; et al. A Draft Sequence of the Rice Genome (Oryza sativa L. ssp. japonica). Science 2002, 296, 92-100, 10.1126/science.1068275.
  3. Erika Asamizu; Yasukazu Nakamura; Shusei Sato; Satoshi Tabata; Characteristics of the Lotus Japonicus Gene Repertoire Deduced from Large-Scale Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) Analysis. Plant Molecular Biology 2004, 54, 405-414, 10.1023/b:plan.0000036372.46942.b8.
  4. C. J. Bell; The Medicago Genome Initiative: a model legume database. Nucleic Acids Research 2001, 29, 114-117, 10.1093/nar/29.1.114.

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