Daily Archives: 6th of August 2010

Sense and sensibility to sex and sustainability

International Congress on Sexual Plant Reproduction

International Congress on Sexual Plant Reproduction

Two-thirds of the energy in the food we eat comes from seeds – including wheat, rice, maize, oilseeds – and their associated storage structures as fruits. Without seeds, the direct product of sexual reproduction. providing packaged, high-energy, nutrient-rich, transportable and storable structures, life as we know it would be impossible. This week, many researchers from the plant reproduction research community have met in Bristol, UK, to discuss the mechanisms of reproduction, from the development of the flowers and production of the gametes, through to pollination and fertilization and on to endosperm and seed development. Hugh Dickinson, chairman of the not-for-profit charity that owns Annals of Botany, provided the title of my blog in his opening talk, and emphasized the contribution of plant reproduction – and the exploitation of diversity by plants and plant breeders – to sustainability. Moving on to his own research, Hugh emphasized the remarkable epigenetic effects which are so conspicuous during the reproductive development of plants – a theme building on his papers “When Genomes Collide: Aberrant Seed Development Following Maize Interploidy Crosses” (doi:10.1093/aob/mcn017) and a pair of review articles, “Epigenetics and its Implications for Plant Biology 2. The ‘Epigenetic Epiphany’: Epigenetics, Evolution and Beyond” (doi: 10.1093/aob/mcj001) with another speaker at the meeting, Robert Grant-Downton. I really don’t know how to give a flavour of all the exciting research presented, but Annals of Botany and Journal of Experimental Botany were major sponsors of the conference and will produce special issues early next year which will include both reviews and primary research papers on the theme of sexual plant reproduction. Meanwhile, I can’t help pointing towards one more article which underpins the genomics and transcriptomics that we saw at the conference – both authors, Jörg D. Becker and José A. Feijó, from the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal, build on their paper “How Many Genes are Needed to Make a Pollen Tube? Lessons from Transcriptomics” (doi:10.1093/aob/mcm208).

Do look out for the Special Issues, all to be previewed on this AoBBlog, and the Annals one will be available free in print to people working the field who request a copy.

Bacteria and plants entangled in Research Blogging

There’s been a couple of posts on Research Blogging that have caught my eye in the past couple of days. Both of them are interesting because they show how important studying interaction is to understand the natural world.

Tree and fungus

Tree and Fungus

Lab Rat comments on a paper on Trees that farm bacteria. She also points out the connections trees make with fungi. The key feature of these partnerships is that they are interactions between two or more parties, not bacteria adapting to a passive environment.

Plants are even less passive in the paper reported on at Phased, who has the “Man Bites Dog” story of the plant world. This indicates that plants aren’t merely farming bacteria for nutrients, but also for lunch. Tomatoes have been shown to draw in microbes through the roots and tagging with Nitrogen-15 shows bits of them end up in the leaves.

Both papers show how interdisciplinary approaches can be important. I know some people who are very keen on the idea of interdisciplinarity, but see it as something at happens at the boundaries of a subject. In both cases here these papers study problems that make no sense without genuine interdisciplinary, as opposed to multidisciplinary work.

I think that’s part of the attraction of Botany. As well as being a field at the cutting edge of Biology, it’s also intrinsically connected to other fields of study because plants are the basis of so much activity on the planet. I think Microbiology has the same kind of pervasiveness, but Botany makes nicer photos.

Phylogeography and acquisition of dioecy in Malvaceae

Dombeyoideae

In the Mascarenes, a young oceanic archipelago, the Dombeyoideae have extensively diversified and have evolved specific breeding systems compared to the continental species. By constructing a molecular phylogeny, Le Péchon et al. (pp. 343–357) show that the diversity of the Mascarene’s Dombeyoideae is the result of four independent colonizations from Madagascar and that dioecy is an evolutionary convergence that may be the consequence of selective pressure particular to oceanic island environments.