Few of know you the mouse-ear cress. It’s a relative of mustard and cabbage, but it’s not known for its flavor or nutrition. It’s not farmed commercially. It’s not noticeable. It’s a small white plant with boring white flowers —and yet even though it’s not famous, it’s still the most well-known plant in the world.
Arabidopsis thaliana has been studied since 1943, because it was so easy to work with. It could be easily grown in any lab. Through this research, scientists learned that it has only five pairs of chromosomes, the fewest of any known plant. More importantly, its few chromosomes with their easily identifiable genes are analogous to the genes of more complicated (and nearly unrelated) creatures. It has formed the basis for thousands of research projects for decades.
Mouse-ear cress has an ever-growing online book focusing on its breeding and its genetics. It’s going to be marketed to us as the “glowing plant.” It has an online page with an acronym The Arabidopsis Information Resource, or TAIR. And of course it’s been to space.
So, instead of giving credit only to fruit flies, let’s take a moment and appreciate the mouse-ear cress, the thale cress, the rock cress, or whatever other name this anonymous plant takes. We owe Arabidopsis, the green work-horse of the lab, more than we’ll ever know — unless we’re biologists.