Monthly Archives: July 2010

Gene dispersal in wild carrot populations

Wild carrot

How far can a gene disperse? Historical and contemporary gene dispersal can be estimated from spatial genetic structure and paternity analysis, and Rong et al. (pp. 285–296) find that an estimate of gene flow in Daucus carota ssp. carota based on contemporary pollen dispersal is much larger than an estimate of historical flow. The results have implications for the ease with which transgene flow might occur from cultivated GM carrots to wild carrot populations.

The waste of what we do?

Waste food - returned from shops and being fed to cows

Waste food - returned from shops and being fed to cows

Many of us involved in plant sciences are looking at ways to improve crop productivity by 5%, 7% or maybe even 10%. Although not focusing on the details of plant breeding, Annals of Botany has numerous papers on domestication, genes which improve crop yields, physiology which gives more robust yield, and uses of nitrogen or disease resistance.

But there is a new report from the UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (for those not familiar with the UK scene, this used to be called the Ministry of Agriculture, and has little to do with taking your partner for a country walk and onto a pub/guesthouse). The DEFRA report (deleted on defra site 2/Apr/2011) shows that 15% of all the food bought in shops that could have been eaten is thrown away in the UK. Amazingly, no less than a third of the bread is thown away and a quarter of potatoes and other vegetables. This is after all the labour, tillage, fertilizer, crop protection chemicals, harvesting and processing energy has been expended. It does not even take into account the loss of food which is not sold or decays in the distribution chain (as illustrated left). Clearly, reducing this wastage would have an immediate impact on the demand for ever-increasing agricultural production and more land coming into intensive production.

While shocking, I doubt that these figures are specific to the UK: given our cool climate, I expect as much if not more wastage in the tropics. But these data do emphasize the need for better study of the genetics of post-harvest traits that will increase quality and the storage life of foods and reduce wastage.

DEFRA: Official Statistics: Household food and drink waste linked to food and drink purchases (pdf, 27 July 2010) was at familyfood/documents/foodwastepurchases.pdf (deleted on defra site 2/Apr/2011)

See also: (deleted on defra site 2/Apr/2011)

Amazon to launch a new e-reader / web browser

Amazon have announced the latest iteration of their Kindle e-reader, which will cost £109 ($139) for a WiFi only model or £149 ($189) for a reader with 3G access that allows you to connect to the internet – if there’s a signal. It follows the iPad which sells for £429 ($499) for the WiFi model or £529 ($629) with a £10 ($15 or $25) per month subscription for the 3G model. A comparison between the models isn’t entirely fair. The Kindle is designed primarily as a device for e-books, while the iPad is a multimedia device. However, there is a basic web browser on the Kindle. If you’re looking for something that will primarily be used as an e-reader which device is better? The video below compares a Nook, which is similar to a Kindle, against an iPad.

Digital Trends compares the Nook (e-ink device) against the iPad

It’s impossible to say too much about the web browsing experience on the new Kindle at the moment, though browsing on the Kindle 2.0 looks slow. A lot of the experience will depend on the speed of the connection Vodafone will allow in the UK. The display will be monochrome, slow and won’t have Flash. The iPad also lacks flash, but people are adapting websites to cater for its limitations. The iPad’s browser will better, whatever the browser on the Kindle is, partly due to the LCD touchscreen display which is faster than the e-ink used by the Kindle. The question is, “Is it worth £380 plus £10 a month for better mobile web access?”

Before you spend money on either of these, there’s also another range of devices on the horizon. A few companies have announced plans to launch tablet PCs based on the Android 2.2 operating system in October and November. Android is an operating system developed by Google used on smartphones that compete with the iPhone. Like the iPhone/iPad Android devices haven’t been able to run Flash, but Android 2.2 has changed that. If you’re impatient you can already get Android 1.6 devices to use as e-readers for just £85.

There is no single best device, but if you’re looking for a portable reader it’ll be worth looking around to see what you get for your money over the next six months.

Print has survived Radio, Television and the Web so far. It’s likely to survive eBooks too but as e-Readers become mainstream there will be more challenges for publishers of textbooks (and journals). How will they integrate the features that digital publications allow without losing accessibility or usability? Will print and digital content diverge rather than attempt to be facsimiles of each other?

Oxygen transport via aerenchyma in soybean

Soybean roots

When in flooded soil, soybean, Glycine max, produces aerenchyma and hypertrophic stem lenticels. Shimamura et al. (pp. 277–284) investigate the oxygen dynamics in these tissues and find that hypertrophic lenticels on the stem of soybean, just above the water surface, are entry points for O2, and these connect to aerenchyma and enable O2 transport into roots in flooded soil. Stems that develop aerenchyma thus serve as ‘snorkels’ that enable O2 movement from air to the submerged roots.

Michael Pollan (and Yoda) at TED

Michael Pollan takes a plant's eye view of agriculture

Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, shows the power of evolutionary explanations by taking a plant’s eye view of agriculture. It’s not just the content that I like, the presentation style is worth examining too.

The talk is definitely more in the style of a naked Yoda than Darth Vader. It’s lacking details, but I never get those from a scientific talk anyway. While it’s not a compelling scientific argument of itself, it did inspire me to follow up on what he was talking about by getting the book.

Factors leading to hybrid lethality in Nicotiana


Hybrid lethality is a type of postzygotic isolation and is observed in some species of Nicotiana in association with genes encoded on the Q chromosome. Tezuka et al. (pp. 267–276) make interspecific crosses of eight wild species with cultivated tobacco, N. tabacum, and find only one, N. fragrans, that produces 100 % viable hybrids. They confirm that one or more genes on the Q chromosome of N. tabacum are responsible for hybrid lethality, but the effect can be suppressed if the seedlings are grown at elevated temperatures.