If global challenges in food production and the impact of ever-declining biodiversity are to be tackled, every country will need plant biologists who have a deep understanding of plant morphology, physiology and genetics, and how these interact to affect plant function in changing environments. These scientists will also need the capacity to use an effective and powerful set of technologies and research strategies. To prepare and inspire our students to become that next generation of researchers and to instill a meaningful involvement in research we created an integrated set of laboratory investigations that we felt truly reflected the mysteries of plant biology and puzzle-solving processes that we had encountered in our research experience. Rather than a set of unconnected experimental activities, we created a series of closely related experiments that focused on solving ‘mysteries’ in the life of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress). The activities charge students with finding the ‘suspect’ gene responsible for the specific phenotypes of an unknown Arabidopsis mutant, which are encountered when they expose the plants to different environmental stresses. This, we hoped, would give keen but inexperienced student scientists a realistic taste of the joys (and frustrations!) of plant science research.
Although thrilled by numerous university and national awards for our innovative teaching, we have been most excited by the interest in our ideas and experimental approaches from other plant science educators in Australia and overseas, who are also seeking to improve their plant biology curriculum and attract more students to plant sciences. We are thus proud to present this manual as a gift to our colleagues worldwide. Here you will find a detailed collection of state-of-the-art procedures in plant biology, as well as background information on more commonly used techniques, and tips for class preparation. The concepts and methods we present can be adapted to meet the specific needs and expertise of the teaching staff, and provide inspiration for scaling up for larger audiences, or simplifying for more junior classes. Through this publication, we hope to support our teaching colleagues in making a significant impact on improving the learning experience of plant biology students worldwide, and hope that we will motivate and inspire a new generation of plant detectives.