En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - February 23, 2012

From: GrantsPass, OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: General Botany, Propagation
Title: Plant cloning or genetic engineering
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Can you take one genome (strain) and take a clean cut and put onto another plant another strain?


What you are suggesting, I think, is essentially cloning (à la Dolly, the sheep) or producing an identical copy of a plant. There are much simpler ways to produce clones in plants.   In fact, many plants produce clones on their own.  For example,  Populus tremuloides (Quaking aspen) reproduce by seeds and by root sprouts.  The ones that reproduce by root sprouts are clones.  This article from the US Forest Service says:

"Aspen is noted for its ability to regenerate vegetatively by shoots and suckers arising along its long lateral roots. Root sprouting results in many genetically identical trees, in aggregate called a "clone". All the trees in a clone have identical characteristics and share a root structure."

Other examples of plants that produce identical copies of themselves are strawberries and many grasses that send out stolons (modified aboveground stems) or rhizomes (modified underground stems) that take root to form new plants.

For most plants, cloning is possible by taking cuttings and rooting them in a proper medium.  Here are detailed instructions for cloning plants from cuttings.   A more complicated and time-consuming way to produce plant clones uses very small pieces of plant and tissue culture.  In fact, recently a Russian scientific team, using tissue culture, was able to reproduce a plant, Sylene stenophylla, from tissue that had been frozen for 30,000 years in a squirrel's burrow in the Siberian permafrost.

Interspecific grafting (and even intergeneric grafting, although not generally successful) is also possible.  This involves connecting shoots of one species to the root stock of another species creating a compound genetic system with each species contributing its strengths (e.g., the root stock from the species with a strong root system and the shoot from a species with a desirable shoot system).

Finally, with genetic engineering techniques it is possible to insert genes from another species into a plant species and have them be functional—even genes from a completely different kingdom (e.g., from Kingdom Monera [bacteria, blue-green algae and spirochetes] into Kingdom Plantae).  Here are some of the goals in genetic engineering of plants:

  • improving nutrition of food plants (e.g., golden rice that contains beta-carotene a precursor for producing vitamin A)
  • making plants resistant to fungi, insects, herbicides and herbivores (e.g., inserting the genome of Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium, into plants [potatoes, corn, etc.] to protect them from Colorado potato beetles and corn borers)
  • modifying plant genomes to produce a specific product (e.g., coffee beans without caffeine)
  • changing the ripening and storage qualities of the fruits of plants (e.g., slow ripening tomatoes)




More Propagation Questions

Growing Green milkweed vine from seed
July 29, 2015 - I was given some seed for the pearl milkweed vine which I intend to plant, but I can find no information on whether to stratify or scarify them or just plant them. I know some milkweeds require strati...
view the full question and answer

Propagating mimosa from seed
October 09, 2008 - I have a seed pod from a Mimosa tree. What is the best way to start this beautiful tree from seed. Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Will Hesperaloe parviflora Yellow propagate true from seed?
May 11, 2009 - Mr. Smarty Plants, I have searched all over the internet and have not been able to find an answer to my question. Will Hesperaloe parviflora 'Yellow' propagate true from seed or is division requ...
view the full question and answer

Keeping a Texas Madrone alive from Belton TX
October 01, 2012 - I have found a supplier of a Texas Madrone and have been wanting to grow one ever since our family vacation to Big Bend NP. My question is how do you have success with this tree? Many people say it is...
view the full question and answer

Trillium seed collection
August 08, 2008 - I am interested in propagating trillium from seeds. When are the seeds ready to be harvested? I removed day lily pods prom the plants and then found out I had picked them too early
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center