New methodologies…

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the olden days – e.g. the 19th Century – sci­ence was severely hampered by the lack of tech­no­logy to per­form the exper­i­ments that those gen­tle­men (sorry, gen­tle­wo­men…) of the 20th and 21st Centuries of great vis­ion and ima­gin­a­tion con­jured up. Today, we have access to an unpar­alleled arsenal of tech­niques and equip­ment to test our hypo­theses (it is often our ima­gin­a­tion that lets us down…). But that is not to say that we can’t use even more new meth­ods and kit. So, here’s a bit of a cata­logue of recent developments/break-through tech­no­lo­gies in plant biology.

Whilst hor­mones (plant growth reg­u­lat­ors?…) don’t con­trol everything botan­ical, they are major play­ers in co-ordinating growth and devel­op­ment. So, it would be use­ful to be able to see where they are in planta. Well, Géraldine Brunoud et al. report a ‘novel sensor to map auxin response and dis­tri­bu­tion at high spatio-temporal res­ol­u­tion’. Amongst other things, this method ‘provides a map of rel­at­ive auxin dis­tri­bu­tion at cel­lu­lar res­ol­u­tion in dif­fer­ent tis­sues’. The method was exploited to very good effect in demon­strat­ing that ‘root grav­it­rop­ism is reg­u­lated by a tran­si­ent lat­eral auxin gradi­ent con­trolled by a tipping-point mech­an­ism’. Fed-up with the tedium of weekly sub­cul­ture of plant cell sus­pen­sions? Well, fret no more: Anne-Marie Boisson et al. report ‘a simple and effi­cient method for the long-term pre­ser­va­tion of plant cell sus­pen­sion cultures’.

Too busy search­ing for your next post-doc pos­i­tion to solve pro­tein struc­tures your­self? Crowd-source it! This is how the still-unsolved-after-more-than-10-years-of-study prob­lem of the fold­ing of a pro­tein was tackled, by an army of vir­tual lab assist­ants play­ing the ‘pro­tein fold­ing game’, Foldit – ‘an online puzzle video game about pro­tein fold­ing’. OK, so this work was actu­ally done with ‘a ret­ro­viral pro­tease of the Mason–Pfizer mon­key virus, which causes an AIDS-like dis­ease in mon­keys’, but surely the principle’s the same for plant pro­teins. Envious of the ease with which your col­leagues work­ing with Nicotiana benthami­ana can per­form Agrobacterium–medi­ated tran­si­ent trans­form­a­tion by leaf infilt­ra­tion? Not any more! Kenichi Tsuda et al. present a pro­tocol for an ‘effi­cient Agrobacterium–medi­ated tran­si­ent trans­form­a­tion of Arabidopsis’. I know, and you thought we could do EVERYTHING with Arabidopsis, already. Well, looks like we can now! And many high-resolution meth­od­o­lo­gies and meas­ure­ment tech­niques are showcased/reviewed in a spe­cial issue of our favour­ite journal about plants [second-favourite, surely? – Ed.], and a use­ful edit­or­ial over­view is provided by Asaph Aharoni and Federica Brandizzi. One con­tri­bu­tion that caught my eye was Ljudmilla Borisjuk et al.’s ‘Surveying the plant’s world by mag­netic res­on­ance ima­ging’, which shows the ingenu­ity of the bot­an­ist in adopt­ing and adapt­ing a tech­nique more usu­ally asso­ci­ated with bio­med­ical applic­a­tions.

Penultimately, Guido Grossmann et al. present the RootChip – ‘an integ­rated micro­fluidic chip for plant sci­ence’, which aims to over­come the acknow­ledged prob­lems of study­ing devel­op­ment and physiology of grow­ing roots. The RootChip integ­rates live-cell ima­ging of growth and meta­bol­ism of Arabidopsis thali­ana roots with rapid mod­u­la­tion of envir­on­mental con­di­tions, and can cope with mul­tiple roots from mul­tiple seed­lings in par­al­lel. As presen­ted it sounds impress­ive, but am I wrong in think­ing that roots tend to grow in the dark, in soil? Well, the image accom­pa­ny­ing the art­icle shows roots in trans­par­ent plastic tubes, in a well-lit lab. Maybe that’s just for pur­poses of illus­tra­tion and the mean­ing­ful meas­ure­ments, etc, are made when the roots are in their nat­ive darkened state.

Finally, recog­nising that the abil­ity to quantify the geo­metry of plant organs at the cel­lu­lar scale can provide novel insights into their struc­tural organ­isa­tion, Andrew French et al. present a tool to count and meas­ure indi­vidual neigh­bour­ing cells along a defined file in con­focal laser scan­ning micro­scope images. Amongst other uses, the Cell-o-Tape tool can be used to provide an estim­ate of the pos­i­tion of trans­ition into the elong­a­tion zone of an Arabidopsis root – a loc­a­tion appar­ently ‘sens­it­ive’ to the sub­jectiv­ity of the exper­i­menter. Quite a list – which is by no means exhaust­ive! – but, my per­sonal favour­ite is… Cell-o-Tape. And I’m stick­ing to it!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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