© Joseph Sohm, Photo Researchers

When Michael Thomashow uprooted two decades ago from sunny southern California for his first faculty position in Pullman, Wash., he had trouble acclimating to the colder weather. That made him wonder how plants survive extreme temperature conditions. "Unlike us, they can't just get up and go inside," he muses. The Washington winters sowed the seeds of his interest in plant stress tolerance, and thus began Thomashow's pioneering work using Arabidopsis thaliana as a powerful model system. Since then, scientists have studied this humble little mustard plant for acidity, salinity, and other stresses.

THE WEED THAT CAME IN FROM THE COLD Before the mid-1980s, Arabidopsis researchers were growing their plants at a constant 20°C, says Gary Warren, University of London, UK. No one was stressing their precious model organisms. But after Thomashow broke from the pack and showed how easy it was to find cold-responsive genes...

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