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Classical genetic research starts with a mutation in an organism and then looks for the gene that is involved. Walker employed what he calls “reverse genetics” to discover what process these receptor genes mediated. First he looked for where the genes were expressed and located that activity in the abscission zones. Then, the mutated plants that didn’t lose their petals showed him what happens when the genes are disabled.

“The nice thing is putting a lot of pieces together,” he says. “People want to be able to control those things. And the more you know about the process, the more opportunity you have,” Walker says.

But for Walker, the practical applications aren’t the only motivation for drilling into the genetics of plants. The biggest thrill by far comes from tracking down new pieces of scientific evidence and making the deductions that tie them together. “It’s discovery,” Walker says. “That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about science: discovering new stuff. And at a university, we can share it with students.”

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Illumination home. Spring 2009 Table of Contents.