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Summer Science Exhibition 2009

The Snapdragon's tale









The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG


A bumblebee entering a Snapdragon flower. Image © Amelia Green.

Researchers from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia are studying snapdragon flowers to understand the genes that influence the symmetry of the flower. From Charles Darwin's experiments with interbreeding two types of snapdragons in 1868, to biological studies today, the snapdragon has been at the heart of development and evolution studies for over two centuries.

"The symmetry of the snapdragon flower continues to fascinate biologists and mathematicians," says Professor Enrico Coen from the John Innes Centre. "From Darwin's first studies, the snapdragon provides vital clues to understanding how genes work."

In 1868 Darwin interbred two varieties of snapdragon flower. One had a normal form with a single plane of symmetry. The other had a radial form with multiple planes of symmetry. Darwin missed the vital clues to the laws of heredity that his data contained. The rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's laws of heredity in the early 20th century led to the secrets of the snapdragon symmetry genes being revealed.

The research team uses the latest modelling and experimental approaches to understand how snapdragon genes work. The team has developed novel methods for imaging growing plant structures in 3D and simulating the effect of symmetry genes on growth and shape.

"The snapdragon's tale illustrates how our understanding of development and evolution has advanced over the past two centuries," says Enrico.


See all exhibits from 2009

The Snapdragon's tale The Royal Society, London 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK