Over the course of two days, the Sainsbury Laboratory welcomed 30 A-level and B-tech biology pupils from Sawtry Community College. They took part in a workshop on the ABC model of flower development, led by Siobhan Braybrook and Devin O’Connor. The pupils were introduced to the ABC model and then given examples of mutant phenotypes. They worked out in small groups what each mutant’s genotype was and how its gene expression would dictate the flower’s morphology. They then shared their findings with the larger group.
After a tour of the lab and a lunch break, the pupils returned for a hands-on session in small groups, taking apart several types of flowers. They were then invited to share with their classmates their thoughts on which combination of ABC genes might be in play for each type of flower. The session concluded with a short talk on why, from an evolutionary standpoint, plants flower at all, and highlighted the different types of pollinators plant designs have evolved to attract.
Throughout the session, Devin and Siobhan emphasised that the ABC model of flower development is a useful but simplistic model, throwing up as many questions as it answers and only partially explaining an extremely complex series of genetic events. The pupils left with a good grasp of the ABC model of flower development and a new found enthusiasm for plants. Comments included that the day ‘made plants interesting and helped me understand genetics better’. ‘Plants are awesome! I particularly enjoyed the group work and the opportunity to discover/work out information ourselves. Thank you very much’. More importantly, it is hoped that the day provided the pupils with a better understanding of how the process of scientific research takes place in developmental genetics- through observations of loss of function mutants, cross breeding, genetic modelling, and iterative theory building.