New Teaching Tool: It’s not easy being not green

There’s a new Teaching Tool in town!

It’s not easy being not green: the making of a parasitic plant – By Caitlin E. Conn and David C. Nelson.

This Teaching Tool explores the biology and evolution of parasitic plants, and their impact on agriculture. In the last portion of the Teaching Tool, the molecular evolution of a parasitic adaptation is discussed at a level intended for advanced students.

Author David Nelson, an Associate Professor of Genetics at the University of California, Riverside, describes the motivation behind this project, “We wanted to share our excitement for the unique biology of parasitic plants, and the potential for basic research to translate to agricultural solutions.”

Why parasitic plants?

Author Caitlin Conn recently completed her PhD with David Nelson at the University of Georgia, and is about to embark on a short teaching-focused postdoc at Spelman College, followed in the spring with a postdoc at Emory University. She says, “Parasitic plants make a great Teaching Tool subject for several reasons. A lot of people don’t think of plants right away when they hear the word ‘parasite,’ but parasitism has actually arisen a dozen times in the plant kingdom. The diversity of parasitic plants – in morphology, ecology, and host interaction strategy – makes them fascinating organisms to study. Parasitic plants also illustrate many fundamental concepts in biology, ranging from antagonistic coevolution between parasites and hosts to molecular processes such as gene duplication and neofunctionalization. Finally, studying parasitic plants has obvious practical applications, since they can be so destructive to agriculture.”

By focusing on a singular group of plants, the authors are able to explore their evolution, adaptations and ecology – making this Teaching Tool expansive in its breadth.

Our goal was to engage students in an interdisciplinary exploration of parasitic plants that brings together concepts from ecology, evolution, molecular genetics, and agriculture. We hope that this will make the Teaching Tool relevant for a broad range of classes and student interests,” shared Dave.

Not only is this a terrific and engaging topic, the slides are rich with high-quality images of these strange and fascinating plants. Speaking of which, you might find a tidbit or two to share on May 18th, the Fascination of Plants Day!


Teaching Tools in Plant Biology are available to ASPB members and via institutional subscriptions to The Plant Cell. Download the new tool here:


Leave a Comment