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Fading Petunias

Wants to revolutionize agriculture with new breeding techniques: Plant geneticist Ueli Grossniklaus. (Image: Meinrad Schade)

Through heat, saline soil or aridity, the environment can directly influence the activity of genes. As the biologist Ueli Grossniklaus has demonstrated, in plants these epigenetic changes can sometimes be inherited.

Ueli Grossniklaus is a molecular biologist with an ambitious goal: He wants to revolutionize agriculture with new breeding techniques. He says this is urgently necessary if we want to go on producing enough rice, corn and wheat for the world’s growing population. The tall professor with nickel-framed glasses has for years been working full speed on various procedures including apomixis, a form of asexual reproduction by way of seeds, and epigenetics, the way the activity of a gene is modified without the gene itself being changed. Recently he and his team pulled off a groundbreaking experiment in this field: “For the first time we could use plant models to show that epigenetic changes are subject to selection and can be passed on across multiple generations.” In other words, epigenetics really can be used for plant breeding.

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