Owing to their delicacy and beauty, flowers have captured humans’ imagination since our earliest ancestors roamed the planet. Their scent and elaborate coloration have been the subject of countless poems and songs. More importantly, flowers have even captivated the attention of scientists.
The elaborate coloring of plants such as the monkeyflower (Mimulus pictus) can be so delicate and complex as to give the impression of being hand-painted by an artist. However, the famous mathematician Alan Turing theorized that simple mathematical models could explain how chemicals interact to produce a very diverse array of color patterns across species. Recently, researchers used modern genetic technology to investigate color patterns in plants using monkeyflower as a model.
These researchers published their results in a recent issue of Current Biology. Their findings demonstrated that the specific type of model proposed by Turing is responsible for the color patterns observed in monkeyflower and that changes to the model affect the attractiveness of the plants to pollinators, making the trait a valuable evolutionary force.
Some may say that the beauty of monkeyflower and similar elaborately colored flowers could be lessened by analyzing the physiological mechanisms that produce their patterns. However, scientists can also see beauty in the way these mechanisms interact, especially when the mechanisms themselves are as simple as Turing proposed.
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