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September 7th, 2010:

Milkweed and Castor Bean

Milkweed seed pod. Source: ms.Tea,flickr (click to see photo in its original context)

The first genome I bring news of isn’t available yet, but I’ll be very interested to see the results when it is. The species is Asclepias syriaca, but the name you’re more likely to recognize is milkweed. These plants grow all over the place back home. If you’re not familiar with them, their most distinctive trait (in my own opinion) are their seedpods (pictured on the right). The name, which I believe applies to the whole genus Asclepias, comes from the white latexy — and toxic! — sap that oozes from broken leaves or stems. The other reason to be familiar with these plants is that they serve as the sole source of food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. The caterpillars retain so much of the defensive toxins produced by milkweed plants that adult butterflies are in turn toxic to many predators.

So that’s why milkweed the species is cool. What’s interesting about milkweed the genome? (more…)