Agricultural speed-dating

No ice cream, but beer and chocolate cake (by a tortoise-shaped lamp) – a much better way to get my strength back.


I’ve had a pretty exhausting day of meetings with various media types and professors from the University of Guelph.

Guelph is home to Canada’s largest agricultural university, so the people I’ve met have all been experts in various areas of farming – from planning to regional and alternative foods, crop development and developing rural communities. It was like speed-dating, but with agricultural boffins.

My last stop was to the crop sciences department to visit Mimi, who’s a doctor of plant genetics but managed to explain her research in a way that made sense, even to a crop thicko like me:

Mimi and corn

In a nutshell Mimi and her colleagues are looking into the genes of plants, including corn, which mutate and change the point at which a plant flowers.

As soon as a plant flowers it puts most of its energy into producing its seeds or fruit. So, if a plant’s genes are a bit squiffy and it flowers early, it will have fewer leaves, comme ca:

Thale cress 1
Whereas a later-flowering plant will have bushier leaves, like so:

Bushier thale crop
Mimi and her science friends are looking into what makes a plant’s flowering point change – apparently there are environmental factors such as the amount of sunlight a plant’s exposed and so on. But if they can work out how the gene works, they could manipulate certain crops so they produce more or less biomass, depending on what was required (for example, a farmer who produces a fuel crop would want a high amount of biomass rather than fewer leaves but a load of seeds). They could also ensure crops like lettuce and cabbage don’t flower and the produce doesn’t go to waste.

I hope I’ve explained that properly. If not I’m sure a certain know-it-all will delight in telling me where I’ve gone wrong…

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2 Responses to “Agricultural speed-dating”

  1. Rob

    Well explained, you should do more of this. The ag industry could do with someone explaining in simple language what the scientist are doing!

  2. Caroline Stocks

    You’re such a suck-up. Unless you’re doing that Australian sarcasm thing again, in which case you’re a loser.