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DNA holds key to better plant classification

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DNA holds key to better plant classification

“Snake Plant’s” potential new family: DNA holds key to better classification

Student training enables participation in research

MESA, Arizona – June 15, 2016 – Andy Baldwin, chair of Mesa Community College’s Life Sciences department, along with Robert Webb, faculty in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona, are using chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) to map genetic plant information.

Using cpDNA, they hope to better classify “Snake Plant” aka “Mother-in-law’s Tongue” along with other plants in the genus Sansevieria.

The more than 100 plants currently in the genus Sansevieria have diverse forms, range in size and appearance, can be found from India to across Africa, and have traditionally only been classified by strict anatomical structures.

“Molecular biology, particularly as it involves the analysis of DNA, is growing in importance within plant taxonomy to resolve how families and genera are related and to even resolve plant species from one another,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin and Webb’s preliminary research was published in the March 2016 edition “Sansevieria,” the International Sensevieria Society Journal. Interestingly, the majority of Sansevieria researchers and journal readers are old-school biologists who were trained in data analysis techniques prior to the development of much of the biotechnology we have available today.

“The article was not only the publication of a preliminary data set, but also an introduction to molecular biology for those who are unfamiliar with its use,” Baldwin said.

MCC students enrolled in an Introduction to Biotechnology class completed all the DNA lab work under the supervision of Carrie Lipka, MCC lab coordinator.

“This endeavor highlights the excellent opportunities our students have to contribute to science and experience the rigor of conducting research,” Baldwin explained.

Students enrolled in the MCC Biotechnology program receive a strong background in the fundamentals of biology and chemistry. Hands-on training in an atmosphere akin to authentic research laboratories makes them well qualified to sample DNA for this research.

Biotechnology at other institutions often focuses on theory. MCC Biotechnology focuses on applicability and marketability; the theory automatically comes with that.

As for the research, “Our preliminary hypothesis is that the genus Sansevieria might justify being split into multiple subgenera and that some species are not species at all, just differing growth forms of the same species. More data and more research are needed,” Baldwin said. “The eventual goal is to provide a complete evolutionary framework of the genus Sansevieria, something that does not currently exist.”

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