Image: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen. Gera-Untermhaus, 1897.

Image: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen. Gera-Untermhaus, 1897.

Echoing a plea from Ron Milo and Robert Last that com­pu­ta­tional meth­ods [which is sort of ‘math(s)’…] should be used to gain deeper under­stand­ing of the fun­da­mental prin­ciples that gov­ern reg­u­la­tion of meta­bolic path­ways in plants, here’s advance notice of The Sixth Mathematics in the Plant Sciences Study Group meet­ing. Taking place from 25–28th March 2013 at the University of Nottingham (UK), this annual work­shop ‘gives a hand­ful of plant and crop sci­ent­ists the oppor­tun­ity to present a research ques­tion to around 40 math­em­aticians and com­puter sci­ent­ists’. At the 4-day number-fest mod­el­lers tackle the prob­lems in teams, ‘res­ult­ing in a great deal of pro­gress made in a very short time’, which is encour­aging. But here’s the real tempta­tion: ‘prob­lems presen­ted at the pre­vi­ous five study groups have led to suc­cess­ful grant pro­pos­als, stu­dent­ships and pub­lic­a­tions (e.g. Scott Grandison). Plus, prob­lems from any area of plant and crop sci­ence are wel­comed. AND no prior exper­i­ence of math­em­at­ical mod­el­ling is required. Can we, er, count you in? And by way of timely proof that numer­ical approaches can yield botan­ical insights, we have Pascal-Antoine Christin et al. invest­ig­at­ing ‘ana­tom­ical ena­blers and the evol­u­tion of C4 pho­to­syn­thesis in grasses’. The team examined leaf ana­tom­ical char­ac­ters of the co-called PACMAD clade (which con­tains mem­bers using both C4 and C3 pho­to­syn­thetic carbon-fixation path­ways) and the BEP clade (which con­tains only C3 mem­bers), par­tic­u­larly factors as basic as the size of the bundle sheath (BS) cells and the close­ness of BSs. Their mod­el­ling indic­ated that evol­u­tion of C4 pho­to­syn­thesis is favoured when the pro­por­tion of BS tis­sue is higher than 15 % (which res­ults from a com­bin­a­tion of short dis­tances between BSs and large BS cells). This par­tic­u­lar com­bin­a­tion of ana­tomy is found in the PACMAD clade, which is inferred to explain the clus­ter­ing of C4 ori­gins in this lin­eage. And, put­ting that study into a big­ger evo-ecophysiological land­scape, we have Howard Griffiths et al.’s review that explores the ‘ori­ginal func­tion of the BS in C3 lin­eages, provid­ing an insight for selec­tion pres­sures lead­ing to the derived C4 path­way’. And if you’ve now got a taste for num­bers and vari­ous C-fixation path­ways, Arren Bar-Even et al. ‘sur­vey car­bon fix­a­tion path­ways through a quant­it­at­ive lens’.

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.