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Inducing variation and reducing fertility through chemical mutagenesis

A breeding population with genetic diversity is necessary for developing new plants with novel characters.  Some plants can become weedy when introduced to a landscape, and reducing fertility can mitigate this effect.

Fall color of Grewia biloba v. parviflora, a shrub species native to Asia that grows up to 6’ and tolerates adverse growing conditions.

Morton Staff

Description/Abstract

Ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) is a chemical mutagen that is known to cause point mutations.  The use of EMS for mutation breeding has been effective in developing populations exhibiting variation in quantitative characters such as height.  As our towns and cities become more densely populated, space for planting trees and shrubs is becoming more limited.  Through mutation breeding, new hardy landscape plants with reduced stature can be developed for these smaller spaces.

The added benefit of EMS mutagenesis is the potential for reducing fertility.  Studies evaluating the effects of EMS have demonstrated that fertility is significantly reduced with treatments of increasing EMS concentrations.  Many species that are adapted to the challenging growing conditions of urban and suburban areas are horticultural introductions and not always native.  While many species do not demonstrate weediness or invasive qualities, it is necessary to consider the potential for future ecological impacts.  In order to take preemptive action in this regard, the New Plant Development Program at The Morton Arboretum will be conducting EMS mutation experiments on various exotic woody species and assessing effectiveness in reduction of fertility.

Close-up of fruit of Grewia shrubGlossy, red fruit of Grewia biloba v. parviflora. Seeds from plants of interest are cleaned and treated with a chemical mutagen prior to germination (not pictured here).

Funding Sources

The Morton Arboretum, Haerther Charitable Trust

Project Status

Ongoing