Monthly Archives: April 2012

Inspiring the Next Generation of Plant Science Researchers

Inspiring the Next Generation of Plant Science Researchers
“We provide evidence from a 5-year study to show that a single concerted effort at the start of undergraduate study can have a clear and lasting effect on the attitudes of students toward plant science. Attendance at a week-long residential plant science summer school in the first year of an undergraduate degree resulted in many students changing courses to include more plant science and increased numbers of graduates selecting plant-based PhDs. The evidence shows that the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School has increased the pool of high-quality plant science related PhD applicants in the UK and has had a positive impact on students’ career aspirations. The results are discussed within the context of enhancing the pipeline of future plant scientists and reversing the decline of this vulnerable and strategically important subject relevant to addressing food security and other major global challenges. We have shown that a single well-designed and timely intervention can influence future student behavior and as such offers a framework of potential use.”

Inspiring the Next Generation of Plant Science Researchers. The Plant Cell, April 2012

RuSource: Economic evidence for investing in the environment

See on Scoop.itAnnBot

There are many examples where green infrastructure offers much better value for public investment than the alternative, for example natural water filtration and natural flood defence.

Alan Spedding over at RuSource had identified and summarized an important report with the less-than-exciting title “Natural England Research Report NERR033 ‘Microeconomic Evidence for the Benefits of Investment in the Environment – review’.

Natural climate control is much cheaper than the air-conditioning (or heating) it replaces. Natural air filtering is likely to be efficient compared to technical alternatives, particularly as trees provide so many other benefits. Access to greenspace and the promotion of active travel are extremely cost-effective ways to address Mental and physical ill-health.

From RuSource and Natural England

This summary is taken from a RuSource briefing to provide concise information on current farming and rural issues produced by Alan Spedding in association with the Arthur Rank Centre. These briefings are circulated weekly by email and previous briefings can be accessed on the Arthur Rank Centre website. If you would like to be put on the list for free regular briefings please contact alan.spedding -at- btopenworld.com
See on www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk

People and the planet – A report from the Royal Society

There are two important pieces of ‘grey literature’ today: the first, from the Royal Society, is a report on how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet. There was also a useful interview on the UK radio programme “Today” about 6.45 am; since the programme is still running I can’t post a link to “listen again”, but it may be at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ghc41. The second report is about the economic case for investing in the environment.

The global report from the RS committee, led by Sir John Sulston, emphasizes the problem of unsustainable consumption in industrialized countries and unsustainable population growth in developing countries, with many obvious cross-overs as the poor increase their consumption (not least of meat), and consumption converts to environmental degradation in the developed world.

With its clear writing and important message, as would be expected from the Royal Society, there is little point in my paraphrasing the succinct report summary here, so hence I am quoting the summary in full:

“Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment. This report gives an overview of how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet.

Working Group chair Sir John Sulston FRS, Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics & Innovation, University of Manchester.
Key recommendations

Key recommendations include:

The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.

The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.

Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.

Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Other recommendations made in the report focus on:

the potential for urbanisation to reduce material consumption
removing barriers to achieve high-quality primary and secondary education for all
undertaking more research into the interactions between consumption, demographic change and environmental impact
implementing comprehensive wealth measures
developing new socio-economic systems. ”

 

On our Scoop It between April 13th and April 26th

These are links from our Scoop It page between April 13th and April 26th:

Tomatoes: GM, Aroma And Tradition

When we carry out traditions, we are under the illusion that we are repeating acts dating back to the dawn of our culture. But a few years later, as an adolescent, a plaque at Montreal’s Botanical Gardens made me aware that tomatoes are not indigenous to the Old World, let alone Italy. Pasta can be traced to the Roman Empire, but it was eaten without tomato sauce.

via Rodomiro Ortiz



Can we count animal extinctions?

Twenty years ago a convention on biodiversity was agreed at the Rio Earth Summit – but do we know how many species are becoming extinct?

It is possible to count the number of species known to be extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does just that. It has listed 801 animal and plant species (mostly animal) known to have gone extinct since 1500.

But if it’s really true that up to 150 species are being lost every day, shouldn’t we expect to be able to name more than 801 extinct species in 512 years?



Putting plants online

The New York Botanical Garden; the Missouri Botanical Garden; The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have announced plans to develop the World Flora – the first modern, online catalog of the world’s plants – by the year 2020. This massive undertaking will include the compilation of information on up to 400,000 plant species worldwide. It will also achieve a primary target of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, an ambitious effort first adopted by the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity in 2002, to halt the continuing loss of plant biodiversity around the globe.



Plant & Crop Science Blog: How to create resilient agriculture

Economic growth with resilience to environmental threats will be central to the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June this year, which aims to map out a pathway of sustainable development for the planet.
The ‘zero draft’, the document that will form the basis of conference negotiations, states a resolve to fight hunger, eradicate poverty and work towards just and economically stable societies.
Food security is critical to this mission. The threats are numerous: repeated food price spikes; shortages of good-quality land and water; rising energy and fertiliser prices; and the consequences of climate change.
Already, somewhere between 900 million and a billion people are chronically hungry, and by 2050 agriculture will have to cope with these threats while feeding a growing population with changing dietary demands. This will require doubling food production, especially if we are to build up reserves for climatic extremes.
To do this requires sustainable intensification — getting more from less — on a durable basis.



History is key factor in plant disease virulence

The virulence of plant-borne diseases depends on not just the particular strain of a pathogen, but on where the pathogen has been before landing in its host, according to new research results:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0034728 ;



Resident poet for botanic garden

There once was a woman from Roath,

Who liked to feel earth ‘tween her toeth,

Her new poetry book,

Could be worth a look,

Because she’s almost certainly better at making rhymes than I am.

 

If you think that outreach doesn’t have to be firmly mondisciplinary then this sounds like good news.



PLoS Pathogens: The Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Symbiosis: Origin and Evolution of a Beneficial Plant Infection

Nicolas Corradi and Paola Bonfante from Canada and Italy review an ancient and ecologically critical fungal lineage: Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) represent a monophyletic fungal lineage (Glomeromycota) that benefits terrestrial ecosystems worldwide by establishing an intimate association with the roots of most land plants: the mycorrhizal symbiosis. This relationship results in an improved acquisition of nutrients (e.g., phosphate and nitrates) from the soil by the plant partners and, in exchange, allows the AMF to obtain the photosynthetically fixed carbon sources (e.g., sugars) necessary for their survival and propagation [1], [2] (Figure 1). This fungal lineage is known to impact the function and biodiversity of entire ecosystems by producing extensive underground networks, composed of hyphae and spores, that interconnect a number of unrelated individual plant species [1], [2]. These networks also function as a significant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, and represent significant underground “nutrient highways” that benefit entire plant and microbial communities. Indeed, AMF spores and hyphae are also a valuable source of food for many soil microorganisms (i.e., bacteria, other fungi, and nematodes), and because of their many beneficial effects on terrestrial ecosystems, AMF are widely used in organic agriculture and plant nurseries to improve the growth of economically important species.



Scientists find how plants grow to escape shade

Mild mannered though they seem, plants are extremely competitive, especially when it comes to getting their fair share of sunlight. Whether a forest or a farm, where plants grow a battle wages for the sun’s rays.



Direct transfer of plant genes from chloroplasts into the cell nucleus

Chloroplasts, the plant cell’s green solar power generators, were once living beings in their own right. This changed about one billion years ago, when they were swallowed up but not digested by larger cells. Since then, they have lost much of their autonomy. As time went on, most of their genetic information found its way into the cell nucleus; today, chloroplasts would no longer be able to live outside their host cell. Scientists have discovered that chloroplast genes take a direct route to the cell nucleus, where they can be correctly read in spite of their architectural differences.

 

People and the planet report | Royal Society

See on Scoop.itAnnBot

There are two important pieces of ‘grey literature’ today: the first, from the Royal Society, is a report on how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet.

 

The report, lead by Sir John Sulston, emphasizes the problem of unsustainable consumption in industrialized countries and unsustainable population growth in developing countries, with many obvious cross-overs as the poor increase their consumption (not least of meat), and consumption converts to environmental degradation in the developed world.

 

With very clear writing and message, as would be expected from the Royal Societ, there is little point in my paraphrasing the succint report summary here, so hence I am quoting the summary in full:

 

“Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment. This report gives an overview of how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet.

Working Group chair Sir John Sulston FRS, Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics & Innovation, University of Manchester.
Key recommendations

Key recommendations include:

The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.

The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.

Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.

Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Other recommendations made in the report focus on:

the potential for urbanisation to reduce material consumption
removing barriers to achieve high-quality primary and secondary education for all
undertaking more research into the interactions between consumption, demographic change and environmental impact
implementing comprehensive wealth measures
developing new socio-economic systems.

 

 


See on royalsociety.org

Dogs, blossom and wine

Puppy and Wine

If you were a Roman puppy in April you might turn to alcohol too. Photo by Ryan James.

The life led by the ancients was rude and illiterate; still, as will be readily seen, the observations they made were not less remarkable for ingenuity than are the theories of the present day.

Pliny the Elder

Kamoun Lab have reminded me via their Scoop It page that today is the day of the Robigalia, a Roman festival to protect the corn crop. Actually reminded is the wrong word. Told is better as I really can’t remember anything about the Robigalia. This is a bit embarrassing as my PhD was partly about astronomy and ancient festivals, and the Robigalia has this in abundance. The best source available online is Pliny’s Natural History chapter sixty-nine, Causes of Sterility, where the above quote comes from. It continues…

With them there were three set periods for gathering in the produce of the earth, and it was in honour of these periods that they instituted the festive days, known as the Robigalia, the Floralia, and the Vinalia.

The Vinalia, a festival for wine production, has already passed us on April 20. Pliny notes: “This, again, is another period of four days, which should never be blemished by dews, as the chilling constellation of Arcturus, which sets on the following day, will be sure to nip the vegetation; still less ought there to be a full moon at this period.”

The links provided by Kamoun Lab are much better than anything I could write about the Robigalia, but there’s something worth noting here too. Why sacrifice a puppy? From the Encyclopaedia Romana:

Columella does speak of a young dog being sacrificed to appease the goddess (De Re Rustica, X.342ff; also Pliny, XVIII.15), and fragments from Festus (XLVIII, CCLXXXV) indicates that red dogs were sacrificed to appease the Dog Star that the corn might ripen. All are examples of homeopathic magic, where the desired event is imitated or mimicked. Here, the withering Dog Star is signified by a sacrificial dog, its color representing red rust (or the ripening corn).

Finally comes the Floralia on April 28. Corn was again an issue, as were blossoming plants. From Pliny again: “If there should happen to be a full moon during the four days at this period, injury to the corn and all the plants that are in blossom, will be the necessary result.”

The interesting feature connecting all three events is not that the movement of stars defines the time to do something, but that the stars directly affect agriculture. For example at the Robigalia, Sirius is low in the evening sky. Soon it will be so low in the evening sky it’ll be below the horizon before it’s dark enough to see it. Because of it being close to the Sun it’s lost in the Sun’s glare for about forty days. The Romans wouldn’t see it again till it rose a few minutes before the Sun at high summer.

The Greeks used these events as part of a rough calendar to mark out the year, but in the passages above it’s clear the Romans aren’t doing this. It isn’t the time of year that’s causing wheat rust. It’s that today the Romans would only see Sirius touch the horizon and it’s the act of the red Dog-Star touching the Earth than can transmit wheat rust. So they’d sacrifice a puppy to propitiate the gods on this day.

It is weird, or at that’s how it looks to me. There is a book due out (since August last year) by Gavin Hardy called Ancient Botany. I’m looking forward to reading it. The way plants were perceived to work obviously affects how you read the ancient evidence if you want to use it in modern studies. Seeing how the Robigalia surprised me, I’m expecting a whole series of “I never realised that!” moments.

Photo: Puppy and Wine by Ryan James. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence

Plant walls, art and improving our environment

Wall plantings on an office along the South Bank, Paris

Wall plantings on an office building along the South Bank, Paris

I’ve seen a new approach to use of ornamental plants several occasions recently: walls of plants covering outdoor and indoor sites. At the indoor site, in Heathrow Airport, I was even more happy to see that Patrick Blanc, credited with conceiving the ‘indoor living wall’ in the legend next to the plantings, is described as a ‘botanist’. The walls, whether indoors or outdoors, give a different aspect to what otherwise would be very unremarkable surfaces. The three uses I have photographed are contrasting sites: indoors, on a temporary hoarding covering a construction site, and on an office building. The Heathrow wall run by Jet Airways certainly made an entirely internal room much more pleasant than simply adding a few pot plants in the corner, and the moisture, lighting and sound absorbing characters counteracted some of the air-conditioned feel that such spaces often have. The office building was in Paris, on the Quai Branly, the south bank of the Seine near the Eiffel Tower, while the wall hiding construction was part of the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square (thus making a notable historical contrast with the Napoleonic monuments and buildings from the other side found along the South Bank of Paris!).

Living wall in front of the National Gallery, London

Living wall in front of the National Gallery, London

Of course, climbing plants have been covering outdoor walls for centuries, although they do seem to be more abundant in pre-1900 pictures of buildings than they are now: people tend to have become suspicious even of ivy (Hedera helix) or Virgina Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on their walls, harbouring insects and damp while etching the surface to cling on. I’m happy with climbers, but am not so sure about that I would trust the technology of irrigation and waterproofing to install walls of plants like these either indoors or outdoors in my house! The lighting in the indoor site also looks unlikely to sustain most species, apparently with filament lights rather than high-pressure mercury vapour lights more suitable for plant growth (another specialized and over-priced product that e-bay purchasing has revolutionized).

An indoor living wall in an airport lounge

An indoor living wall in an airport lounge

The resources in making and maintaining these walls must be considerable – preventing deterioration of the structural wall behind, growing them during different seasons, and circulating water and nutrients.

The choice of mostly leafy species, all requiring considerable water, suggests maintenance will be high, but maybe more work is needed for plants suitable for these locations, just as has been carried out for plants on roofs – for example in Annals of Botany last year by Scott MacIvor and colleagues.

But the living green walls certainly improve the quality of three large public spaces, showing that people really do appreciate the contribution that plants make to the built environment.

Lighting and ventilation for an indoor living wall

Lighting and ventilation for an indoor living wall

J. Scott MacIvor, Melissa A. Ranalli, and Jeremy T. Lundholm
Performance of dryland and wetland plant species on extensive green roofs
Ann Bot (2011) 107(4): 671-679 http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr007

 

Free Paper — The evolution of pollen germination timing in flowering plants: Austrobaileya scandens (Austrobaileyaceae)

Austrobaileya has long served as a model for ancient angiosperm pollen structure. Its pollen germination is relatively rapid and requires < 10 % of the progamic phase. Extensive evidence discussed in this paper suggests pollen germination underwent acceleration early in angiosperm history.

On our Scoop It between April 4th and April 13th

These are links from our Scoop It page between April 4th and April 13th:

The Importance and Challenge of rapid multiplication of Vegetative Crops in Africa | Africaseed.net

Realizing the potential of Africa’s vegetative crops requires new tools for rapid multiplication of healthy and improved planting material. Bananas, plantains, cassava, potato and sweet-potato, as well as other indigenous African root vegetables are key in solving Africa’s food and income security challenges. The total production of these crops almost doubles that of maize, rice and wheat in Africa. These vegetatively propagated crops are an excellent source of cheap energy and are a key staple foods in Sub-Saharan Africa. From Rodomiro Ortiz …



Orchids Are as Finicky as the Fungi That Nourish Them: Scientific American

"[T]hough they grow in every U.S. state and on every con­tinent except Antarctica, many [orchids] are endangered, and the flowers are exceed­ingly sensitive to environ­mental changes. Native orchids’ dustlike seeds will grow only if nourished by certain groups of root fungi, known as mycorrhizal fungi.



A Business Model to Feed 9 Billion | Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Blog

One Acre Fund is an organization that “helps East African farmers grow their way out of hunger.” So why a smallholder agricultural development organization on the Landscapes Blog? There is no discussion of multiple ecosystem services, or the role of trees and wildlife habitat in a landscape. But the organization’s projects address issues of credit, insurance, seed, and access to markets that are also essential for any integrated approach to sustainable and scalable agricultural development to succeed. And it is organizations like One Acre, that have built relationship with an aggregated group of small-scale farmers, that could play important roles in developing agricultural production systems that provide these food and livelihood benefits, while also protecting the health of the natural ecosystems.



Biotech and Organic Farming: Coexisting Peacefully | IIP Digital


A plant pathologist and an organic farmer co-author a book about how agricultural biotechnology and organic farming can coexist to produce abundant food and enhance the ecologic sustainability of farms.



Land for Life: Securing our common future | Global Environment Facility

A new book to convey how sustainable land management (SLM) practices are helping shape a sustainable future for people and the planet. The book is illustrated with high quality photos donated by the GoodPlanet Foundation and from other sources, to demonstrate how human ingenuity is largely driving innovations in soil, land, water, and vegetation management. It describes how harnessing natural, social, and cultural capital is addressing fundamental needs for livelihood and well-being—food, water, energy, and wealth—while delivering global environmental benefits.



A bit touchy: Plants’ insect defenses activated by touch

Jasmonate plays a critical role in initiating plant defenses against plant-eating insects. When jasmonate levels go up, the plant increases production of metabolites that give herbivores an upset stomach. Jasmonate defenses, which also protect against some fungal infections, are employed by virtually all plants, including tomatoes, rice and corn. The new study provides the first evidence that these defenses are triggered when plants are touched. In a new study, students touched the plants in a laboratory, but researchers say the touch-induced response could also be activated by animals, including insects, and wind.



New to nature: Solanum baretiae

Jeanne Baret was an intrepid 18th-century French explorer who is only now receiving long-overdue recognition. She served as assistant to ship's botanist Philibert Commerson on the circumnavigation voyage of the Etoile when it set sail in 1766 under the command of Louis Antoine de Bougainville. In the course of collecting with Commerson more than 6,000 plant specimens, now housed in the French national herbarium of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris, Baret became the first woman to circle the globe. So why have you probably not heard of her before now? Because women were prohibited from even being aboard vessels under French naval regulations.



Airborne Signals from a Wounded Leaf

Methanol emitted by a wounded plant acts as a signal that enhances antibacterial resistance and facilitates viral spread in neighboring plants.



Current Opinion in Plant Biology: Oomycetes, effectors, and all that jazz

Plant pathogenic oomycetes secrete a diverse repertoire of effector proteins that modulate host innate immunity and enable parasitic infection. Understanding how effectors evolve, translocate and traffic inside host cells, and perturb host processes are major themes in the study of oomycete–plant interactions. The last year has seen important progress in the study of oomycete effectors with, notably, the elucidation of the 3D structures of five RXLR effectors, and novel insights into how cytoplasmic effectors subvert host cells. In this review, we discuss these and other recent advances and highlight the most important open questions in oomycete effector biology.



Farm-fresh infringement: Can you violate a patent by planting some seeds?


One farmer argues that when Monsanto sells a seed, farmers are free to do as they please with it—and its descendants. Monsanto claims patent infringement. The Supreme Court may decide.


The answer is blowin’ in the wind…

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

How does a rooted-to-the-spot plant escape the attentions of would-be herbivores? Well, according to Kazuo Yamazaki in his review straightforwardly entitled ‘Gone with the wind: trembling leaves may deter herbivory’, they move, and rather rapidly, too! No, they don’t run away, but by employing rapid – though passive – movements, such as the wind-induced trembling of leaves, they may keep invertebrate invaders at bay. Those movements may dislodge herbivores or parasites or dissuade gravid females from laying their eggs on the ‘movable feast’.

The leafy jinglings and janglings may also serve to uncover animals previously hidden by the foliage, subjecting them to the undesired attentions of their own predators. Furthermore, the tremblings may assist the dispersal of plant volatile compounds thereby repelling herbivores and/or attracting their predators. Lovely stuff (and so elegant, it must be correct!). As in the human world, so too it would seem in the plant world, it’s the movers and shakers who get things done.