Purpose Author: KATHRYN S. BROWN
SIDEBAR: Plant Science Resource
Plant biologists are more than just highly educated green thumbs. Armed with new technology, researchers are engineering plants to tackle some of society's nettlesome problems. And plant biologists point out that transgenic studies today could yield vegetation able to deliver vaccines, clean the environment, or manufacture chemicals tomorrow.
MAKING HAY: Wisconsin plan physiologist Robert Goodman notes that industry funds the "bold ideas" while federal funding is "sparse". "Plants are very efficient producers," says Chris Somerville, an investigator with the Carnegie Institution of Washington's plant lab in Stanford, Calif. "That means they can be a cheap, renewable resource for hundreds of things." Somerville, for example, has engineered plants to produce plastic and the precursor to nylon.
The driving force behind today's plant-for-every-purpose research is an ability to identify and engineer genes, in both plants and their invading bacteria.