The power of model-to-crop translation illustrated by reducing seed loss from pod shatter in oilseed rape.

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Elucidation of key regulators in Arabidopsis fruit patterning has facilitated knowledge-translation into crop species to address yield loss caused by premature seed dispersal (pod shatter). In the 1980s, plant scientists descended on a small weed Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) and developed it into a powerful model system to study plant biology. The massive advances in genetics and genomics since then have allowed us to obtain incredibly detailed knowledge on specific biological processes of Arabidopsis growth and development, its genome sequence and the function of many of the individual genes. This wealth of information provides immense potential for translation into crops to improve their performance and address issues of global importance such as food security. Here, we describe how fundamental insight into the genetic mechanism by which seed dispersal occurs in members of the Brassicaceae family can be exploited to reduce seed loss in oilseed rape (Brassica napus). We demonstrate that by exploiting data on gene function in model species, it is possible to adjust the pod-opening process in oilseed rape, thereby significantly increasing yield. Specifically, we identified mutations in multiple paralogues of the INDEHISCENT and GA4 genes in B. napus and have overcome genetic redundancy by combining mutant alleles. Finally, we present novel software for the analysis of pod shatter data that is applicable to any crop for which seed dispersal is a serious problem. These findings highlight the tremendous potential of fundamental research in guiding strategies for crop improvement.