spinach in physiological studies

Joseph E. Laferriere josephl at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Sun Jul 28 15:08:08 CDT 1996

On Sun, 28 Jul 1996, Automatic digest processor wrote:

> From:    Jerry Bricker <lcjbrick at ANTELOPE.WCC.EDU>

>  I recall my initial
> shock at learning that the bulk of photosynthesis research is done on
> supermarket variety spinach. ....  I made
> the mistake of commenting that I thought that raising spinach in the
> greenhouse under
> controlled conditions with routine preservation of voucher specimens
> would produce more reliable and repeatable results.  I got a look
> that could've curdled milk!  Needless to say, my suggestion made little
> impression and plant physiologists the world over still make a trip to
> the local supermarket when in need of research material.

There are two types of experiments a physiologist can perform: 1) a
broad-based survey comparing numerous taxa, or 2) an in-depth study of the
detailed inner workings of a single species or genus. What you witnessed
was one of the latter.
   The reason we know so much about genetics of Drosophila and the
physiology of E. coli is that they have been the subjects of the second
type of research. These types of studies are immensely valuable in giving
us a basis from which to work. Once we turn our attention to another
genus, we can assume that similar things happen there as happen with
Drospohila, which we already know so well. Perhaps this will turn out to
be false, but at least we know what questions to ask. If we used only a
broad-based approach in physiology, we would never know the details of
how one narrow taxon works.
   With respect to the spinach, it probably would not make any difference
if the material were grown in the lab or on the farm. Spinach, like most
crops grown in momocultures, has a very narrow genetic base, so on the
level the physiologists are working there is probably not much variation.
Hence it would be a waste of time and money to grow the things in
carefully controlled environments, and a waste of herbarium space to have
hundreds of sterile spinach vouchers. I agree that if they stray from
commonly recognized garden crops, vouchers become essential.
  Physiologists have different needs than systematists, and you have to
respect those differences.

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