Flat Stanley Visits The Plant Gene Expression Center

Plant Gene Expression Center

Mr. Taylor’s second grade class at Havens Elementary School sent me on my next science adventure at Cal! I visited the greenhouses at the Plant Gene Expression Center with scientists from the McCormick Lab. In one room of the greenhouse I watched Junmin (a visiting professor from China) and Sarah (a UC-Berkeley undergraduate) collect pollen from some Arabidopsis plants. This plant is related to broccoli, even though it doesn’t look much like it. The pollen collector was put together with a little hand-held vacuum cleaner that is attached to some pipes with duct tape, and there are different sizes of mesh inserted between the different pipes. When the vacuum cleaner is turned on the flowers are sucked up, but they are trapped on the bigger-sized mesh, and the pollen passes through until it hits the smallest-sized mesh. They use the vacuum cleaner because Arabidopsis flowers are very small, and it is a very easy way to collect large amounts of pollen. After vacuuming, Junmin and Sarah went back to the lab and dismantled the pipes and collected the pure pollen from the smallest-size mesh. Then they used this pollen for experiments, including looking at it under a microscope. A single pollen grain is too small to see with your eye, although if you have thousands and thousands of them you can see a yellow powder on the mesh.

Sarah Liu and Prof. Junmin He

Louis Chen

In another room in the greenhouse, I saw how Louis (another UC-Berkeley undergraduate) was taking care of some Miscanthus sinensis plants. Unlike Arabidopsis plants, which die after flowering and making seed, Miscanthus plants can keep growing and flowering over and over. Louis was trimming off the old flowers (such as the fuzzy–looking one next to Louis’s head) in order to encourage the plants to make new flowers (such as the one by my left hand).