The DNA of any living thing determines all the chemistry that goes on inside it – and that determines all its characteristics, most importantly what it looks like. Over many generations, DNA changes. So two species that had a common ancestor relatively recently should have DNA that is similar, and of course they should look similar. If they diverged a long time ago, their appearances will be more different, and their DNA sequences will be more different.
The genus Meconopsis is divided into subgenera, sections and series (see Meconopsis Classification), each level involving smaller differences between its members than the previous one. We expect that to be reflected in the DNA, showing us how plants are related to one another.
The Meconopsis Group has started a project in collaboration with Jason Carling, who works with Diversity Arrays Technology, a company based in Canberra, Australia. We send small, dried leaf samples, from which DNA is extracted. They are then analysed using Diversity Array Technology sequencing (DArTseq), giving the base sequences. This method targets the exosome, which is the protein-coding part of the genome, which is most significant for determining the characteristics of the plants.
Relationships between the plants are given simply by the differences between their DNA base sequences.
In the first stage of this project, we want to compare the subgenera, sections and series within the genus. We have samples for 14 of the 18 groups of taxa. Most of these have been sent to Australia, and we are looking forward to seeing the results, and starting to think about what they mean.
The second stage will involve looking at as many species as possible, and their subspecies and varieties. We will see how great the differences are within one subgenus, section or series. As there are about 150 taxa, that is asking a lot. We hope that our friends in countries where the species grow wild will be able to help in providing samples.
Then we would like to tackle some real challenges. Hybrids must contain some DNA from each of their parents. So it is possible to identify the parents, so long as their DNA sequences are already known.
Meconopsis ×cookei is the natural hybrid of M. quintuplinervia and M. punicea.
Many of the cultivated varieties of Meconopsis, particularly the big blue poppies, are likely to be hybrids, but we don’t know for sure what their parents were. And it is possible that several varieties may be from the same parents. There is a lot that we would like to know, and we hope that through this project we will learn more about these beautiful and interesting plants, and their origins.
Can you help?
if you grow unusual species or can collect wild samples
if you can help practically with samples
if you can enter data
if you can do DNA analyses – there is always need for more!
If so, please contact us.