Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Inflorescence diversity in the grass family
Looking in wild places: crop relatives and Pasteur’s quadrant
Study of wild grasses falls firmly in the realm of use-inspired basic research (also known as Pasteur’s quadrant). All crops grown by humans have been selected from wild species, and often bear flowers and fruits that are similar to their wild ancestors. Study of wild species thus provide insights and hypotheses that can be tested in crops. This talk will focus on recent work on the wild relatives of sorghum and Miscanthus, including the plants of the tallgrass prairie and the great grasslands of Africa. All these plants bear their flowers in tiny clusters (spikelets); the spikelets themselves are borne in sets of two but only one of the pair makes a seed. The production of sterile flowers is paradoxical because it would seem to be a waste of resources. Most species also have an extension of the floral bract (awn). Investigating how the spikelets and awns function in wild species, we have found that that they have novel roles in growth and seed set (yield). These results then inspired experiments and new results in cultivated sorghum.