Daily Archives: 19th of September 2012

Superhero Barley

The International Atomic Energy Authority have released some new videos to their YouTube channel that may interest botanists. The most relevant video is The Birth of Centenario. This is about the breeding of a new strain of barley for the Andean highlands. The video shows how cross-breeding from mutant plants bombarded with radiation has produced a new strain of barley capable of feeding humans in the highlands of Peru.

The other videos are More Food with Better Soil and Food for the Future. These join classics like Better Fruit with Nuclear Technology.

I’m going to have a happy evening browsing the IAEA’s video channel.

On our Scoop It between August 17th and September 19th

These are links from our Scoop It page between August 17th and September 19th:

Space Gardening? Ohio State Creates Food-production System for Future NASA Missions

"Say you are on Mars and fancy a salad. Unless the Curiosity rover can make an unexpected find of fresh romaine somewhere on the dusty Red Planet, you are looking at a nine-month trip to the nearest produce aisle on Earth."

 

Botany to the rescue. Researchers at Ohio State University are working on a system to produce astrolettuce and other fresh food.



The interactome

How do you get the most out of meeting people at science conferences?



Extremely rare plant region left unprotected in the Yucatan Peninsula


For the first time, scientists have identified the areas of the Yucatan Peninsula that hold the highest concentrations of endangered woody plants, which includes trees, shrubs, and lianas.



Blinded by Big Science: The lesson I learned from ENCODE is that projects like ENCODE are not a good idea

The lesson I learned from ENCODE is that projects like ENCODE are not a good idea.

American biology research achieved greatness because we encouraged individual scientists to pursue the questions that intrigued them and the NIH, NSF and other agencies gave them the resources to do so. And ENCODE and projects like it are, ostensibly at least, meant to continue this tradition, empowering individual scientists by producing datasets of “higher quality and greater comprehensiveness than would otherwise emerge from the combined output of individual research projects”.

But I think it is now clear that big biology is not a boon for individual discovery-driven science. Ironically, and tragically, it is emerging as the greatest threat to its continued existence.

The most obvious conflict between little science and big science is money. In an era when grant funding is getting scarcer, it’s impossible not to view the $200m spent on ENCODE in terms of the ~125 R01′s it could have funded. It is impossible to score the value lost from these hundred or so unfunded small projects against the benefits of one big one. But a awful lot of amazing science comes out of R01′s …



Variegation is the spice of life – Telegraph

"The science behind the phenomenon of variegated leaves is fascinating, even though we don't always apprecaite it. Plants that are made up of two genetically different kinds of cells are known as chimeras. One curiosity is B. chlorosticta, which has stunningly beautiful dark green leaves with a light green margin and spots. It has the same structural variegation as all the other begonias, so why isn’t it just green and silver like them? According to research by a team from Taiwan and published in the journal Annals of Botany, the answer lies in the red pigment in the lower epidermis of the leaves of this species."

 

See also original paper at http://www.le.ac.uk/biology/phh4/public/Begonia_1065.pdf



Citrus greening bacteria reach California despite biosecurity Global Crop Diversity Trust

Californians flipping through the news over their organic, high-fibre muesli must have spluttered orange juice all over their shiny new iPad3s. Huanglongbing has come to their state. This nasty disease — also known as citrus greening — has already done a number on plantations of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and more exotic fruits of that ilk in China and Brazil. Since 2005, when it arrived in Florida, it has cost that state over $3.5 billion and 6000 jobs due to the hit on production. That was bad enough for the US juice industry, but California is the source for the bulk of fresh citrus for the table. There’s no known cure for citrus greening, which makes its arrival in Los Angeles a serious threat to the state’s economy.

No cure, and no known resistant varieties — yet. But… There's hope in genebanks, including US citrus germplasm collection, at the University of California, Riverside. Fortunately, multiple insect-proof screens were installed years back to protect the greenhouses in which the collection is kept. That should keep out the insect that spreads the pathogen, at least for now.



Algorithms – Leave the thinking to us. A sociologists view. Times Higher Ed
Put starkly, the day cannot be far away when there is an "app" that tells us what articles to read. I'm imagining a simple application that builds up a personalised profile of the research articles we read, and then uses that profile to predict what we are likely to want to read. Such devices are already informing us what music to listen to, what films to watch and what books to buy, so it can't be long before they are doing our research for us, too.

Imagine the ease of researching in a world where the research materials "find" us. Where we need only log in to see what we must read in order to complete a project. No more searching, no more wasting time reading the wrong things or looking in the wrong places, no more aimless flâneurs wandering around libraries or flicking through e-journals to see what they might find. None of this will be needed because the power of algorithms, as sociologist Scott Lash has put it, will be reshaping the academy. These algorithms will streamline, predict, make decisions for us and do work on our behalf, taking some of the agency from researchers and research processes – and making it their own.

This might sound like futurism, but the reality is that algorithms are already sorting the academy in lots of ways.

I've been quite speculative in suggesting that research articles will come to find their readers, but in many ways this is already the case with books. We need only to think of how Amazon's predictive algorithms already shape our encounters with academic books…"



Learning from failure: the importance of teaching with mistakes

Every idea from every discipline is a human idea that comes from a natural, thoughtful, and (ideally) unending journey in which thinkers deeply understand the current state of knowledge, take a tiny step in a new direction, almost immediately hit a dead end, learn from that misstep, and, through iteration, inevitably move forward. That recipe for success is not just the secret formula for original scholarly discovery, but also for wise, everyday thinking for the entire population. Hence, it is important to explicitly highlight how essential those dead ends and mistakes are — that is, to teach students the power of failure and how to fail effectively.

Individuals need to embrace the realization that taking risks and failing are often the essential moves necessary to bring clarity, understanding, and innovation. By making a mistake, we are led to the pivotal question: "Why was that wrong?" By answering this question, we are intentionally placing ourselves in a position to develop a new insight and to eventually succeed. But how do we foster such a critical habit of mind in our students — students who are hardwired to avoid failure at all costs? Answer: Just assess it.

For the last decade or so, I’ve put my students’ grades where my mouth is. Instead of just touting the importance of failing, I now tell students that if they want to earn an A, they must fail regularly throughout the course of the semester — because 5 percent of their final grade is based on their "quality of failure."

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/08/21/essay-importance-teaching-failure#ixzz24FhH4krJ
Inside Higher Ed



Google Scholar Updates: Making New Connections


The official source for information about Google Scholar…

"often the spark for discovery comes from making a new connection or looking in a direction that you hadn’t yet considered and that — before your aha! moment — you wouldn’t have known to look for. Today we hope to start fostering these new connections with Scholar Updates.

We analyze your articles (as identified in your Scholar profile), scan the entire web looking for new articles relevant to your research, and then show you the most relevant articles when you visit Scholar. We determine relevance using a statistical model that incorporates what your work is about, the citation graph between articles, the fact that interests can change over time, and the authors you work with and cite."



Saving Lives In Africa With The Humble Sweet Potato : NPR

In Africa, a nutrition success story: Swapping orange sweet potatoes for white ones is improving the health of children by boosting vitamin A levels. Researchers are now trying to duplicate their success with other crops.
But in parts of Africa, that sweet potato is very exciting to public health experts who see it as a living vitamin A supplement. A campaign to promote orange varieties of sweet potatoes in Mozambique and Uganda (instead of the white or yellow ones that are more commonly grown there) now seems to be succeeding. (Check out this cool infographic on the campaign.) It's a sign that a new approach to improving nutrition among the world's poor might actually work.

That approach is called biofortification: adding crucial nutrients to food biologically, by breeding better varieties of crops that poor people already eat. But in parts of Africa, that sweet potato is very exciting to public health experts who see it as a living vitamin A supplement. A campaign to promote orange varieties of sweet potatoes in Mozambique and Uganda (instead of the white or yellow ones that are more commonly grown there) now seems to be succeeding. (Check out this cool infographic on the campaign.) It's a sign that a new approach to improving nutrition among the world's poor might actually work.

That approach is called biofortification: adding crucial nutrients to food biologically, by breeding better varieties of crops that poor people already eat. A campaign to promote orange varieties of sweet potatoes in Mozambique and Uganda (instead of the white or yellow ones that are more commonly grown there) now seems to be succeeding. (Check out this cool infographic on the campaign.) It's a sign that a new approach to improving nutrition among the world's poor might actually work.

That approach is called biofortification: adding crucial nutrients to food biologically, by breeding better varieties of crops that poor people already eat.


Heritability of interactive pollen–pistil traits

Heritability of interactive pollen–pistil traits

Heritability of interactive pollen–pistil traits

In Collinsia heterophylla, a mixed-mating species with delayed stigma receptivity, there is a potential for a sexual conflict over timing of stigma receptivity. Madjidian et al. use experimental crosses and perform parent–offspring regressions and sib analyses to test for heritable genetic variation and co-variation in male and female interactive traits. They find some heritable variation and evolvability in delayed stigma receptivity in the presence of pollen, but no evidence for genetic variation in the ability of pollen to fertilize ovules early. Thus the female function is more likely to respond to selection than the male function.