Topic 1.1 Model Organisms

Plants are a diverse group of organisms with different adaptations to a wide variety of environments. Consequently, some plants have characteristics that make them easy to grow and study in the lab. Just as mice and rats are used as the lab animals for mammalian biology, there are a few lab plants that are most frequently used in plant physiology. Those species that have growth and reproductive properties that provide ease of use in the lab are called model organisms. They are frequently small, hardy organisms with short generation times and small genomes. Different model organisms are used to study different aspects of plant physiology, since no single plant shows all variety of adaptations that make plants interesting. Genetic sequencing is moving apace and a good resource for the genetic information currently available on several model plant organisms and crop species can be found at the web site Phytozome. The table below is a list some plant models and the features that make them interesting and useful model systems.


Plant Latin Name/
Common Name
Image Reason for Use as a Model/
Link to General Information
Year of Genome Sequence/
Link to Genetic Database

Arabidopsis thaliana

Mouse-ear Cress or Thale Cress

Small genome, easily grown in lab, self-fertile (does not require a pollinator)

About Arabidopsis

2000 (first plant to have its genome sequenced)

Summary of Arabidopsis

Brachypodium distachyon

Purple False Brome

Small genome, small physical size, self-fertile, grass family, Monocot

About Brachypodium


Summary of Brachypodium genome

Lotus japonicus

Japanese common name: Miyakogusa

Nitrogen fixer, different symbiotic relationship from Medicago

About Lotus japonicus

In progress in Japan

Current Genome Database

Medicago truncatula

Barrel Clover

Nitrogen fixer, different symbiotic relationship from Lotus, small genome and physical size

About Medicago

In progress internationally

Current Genome Database

Picea abies

Norway Spruce

Conifer, used for somatic embryogenesis

About Conifer genetic sequencing projects

In progress in Sweden

Genome Reseach Project

Selaginella moellendorffii


Smallest genome of any plant species, lycophyte–a primitive vascular plant

About Spikemoss


Selaginella Genome Database

Populus trichocarpa

Western Balsam Poplar

Tree, important in paper manufacturing

About Western Balsam Poplar

2006 (first tree genome sequenced)

Populus trichocarpa Genome Database

Physcomitrella patens


Non-vascular plant, used for investigating tip growth and cell polarity

About Physcomitrella


Physcomitrella Genome Database

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Green alga

Single-celled alga. Study of its flagellar system has been important in revealing the basis of some human ciliary diseases.

About Chlamydomonas


Chlamydomonas Genome Database

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