Molecular automatons and plant systematics

W M.M. Eddie weddie at SRV0.BIO.ED.AC.UK
Thu Aug 28 10:36:07 CDT 1997

Prompted by the contributions of Tom Lammers,
Susan Farmer and Curtis Clark I feel prompted
to add my two pence worth. Normally I'm too weary
from trying to align my sequences that I rarely
bother with such matters.

The situation in the UK has probably never been
better for systematics since the doldrum years
of the '70s and early '80s and this is largely
due,in my opinion, to the impetus provided by
molecular approaches. Nevertheless, there is a
negative side to all this. Traditional systematists
using morphological data have very little hope
of remaining employed in the few institutions
that are left unless they quickly adopt the new
methods. At the age of 50 (!) I attempted to do
just that. Pouring acrylamide gels with a shaking
hand is no easy matter. After I graduated to
automated sequencing things looked much brighter.
I have to say that my adventure into molecular
work was worthwhile in terms of the many new
insights I gained in the genetic aspects of plant
evolution and I certainly now believe that such
techniques should be part of every systematist's
armoury. I can even be ENJOYABLE.

The problem of research funding remains acute in
the UK. I have witnessed our universities and
botanic gardens being filled with ambitious
prima-donnas, mostly under the age of about 35.
Systematist like myself who are yet to blossom
in their middle years are quickly forgotten, which
seems to be the way of things, alas. I do not
think that molecular techniques per se is the
root of the problem. I think we also need to
review the teaching of plant systematics at
university level and its integration with a career
structure. In Scotland there are plans afoot to
reduce the study period for a first degree from
4 years to 3. It is no surprise that we are
churning out graduates who have only learned
six letters of the alphabet...DNA and PCR. I could
go on...but I'm too tired.

Bill Eddie


William M.M.Eddie
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
University of Edinburgh
Daniel Rutherford Building
Mayfield Road
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Scotland, UK
email: weddie at
Tel. 0131 650 5327
FAX. 0131 650 5392

More information about the Taxacom mailing list