Tag Archives: potato

Free plant science videos!

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Always keen to promote free stuff – especially when it is about plants – this column is pleased to advise that videos of several of the presentations from the inaugural conference of the UK’s fledgling PSF (Plant Science Federation – which meeting was covered in a recent series of posts) are now available online. So you can now see and hear some of the UK’s plant scientists expounding upon such globally relevant topics as ‘Breeding wheat for sustainable intensification’, ‘Regulation of plant functioning and yield under climatic and edaphic stress’, ‘Temperature sensing in plants’, ‘Improving plants for the production of 2nd generation biofuels’ and ‘Moving beyond the potato and tomato genome sequences’. Enjoy…

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Botany, a man’s world?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

What do you make of this: ‘In the 18th century, not yet 30 years old, she became the first woman to travel around the world. Along the way she helped collect thousands of plant specimens, some of which were new species. And she did it all dressed as a man’?

Sounds incredible, I know but apparently it is true and relates to one Ms Baret (or Baré). To cut a long (but fascinating!) story short, a wrong – that no plant was named after this indefatigable plants-person – has now been righted by Eric Tepe et al. Their article entitled, ‘A new species of Solanum named for Jeanne Baret, an overlooked contributor to the history of botany’ formally describes Solanum baretiae Tepe, sp. nov. As the authors proudly declare ‘This species in [sic] named in honor of Jeanne Baret (1740–1807), an unwitting explorer who risked life and limb for love of botany and, in doing so, became the first woman to circumnavigate the world… a woman dressed as a man, a female botanist in a male-dominated field, and a working class woman who had travelled farther than most aristocrats’.

Fittingly, S. baretiae is a new member of a cosmopolitanly cultivated, well-travelled and important food genus, suitably befitting for such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled lady! And let us not forget that the genus – Solanum – includes S. tuberosum, the potato, which itself can be dressed up in many different guises, e.g. chips (aka ‘fries’ in the USA, ‘frites’ in France, and – allegedly – ‘Fritz’ in Germany), mashed potato, duchess potato, jacket potato and crisps (bizarrely called ‘chips’ in the USA). But cross-dressing, eh? I think I’d be cross if I had to dress as a woman to pursue my botanical passion; but if that’s what it takes… Hopefully, however, and nowadays, we are much more egalitarian and anybody with the appropriate aptitude can aspire to be a botanist. Though with scientific names like Phallus impudicus and Clitoria for organisms within the remit of the Melbourne Code, and what with that racy Scandinavian Mr Linnaeus’ overtly sexually charged plant classification system, maybe botany is not such a suitable pastime for the gentler sex – or those otherwise of a nervous or sensitive disposition…?

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Go to work on a potato

I didn’t do modern history at school so my impression of the industrial revolution is largely a mish-mash of pop history and some misremembered Industrial Archaeology courses. What I do recall is that the emphasis in the Industrial Revolution is firmly on the Industrial side. Agriculture existed as a place for people to leave to work in factories. This doesn’t work. To understand the past you need a much more active view of agriculture.

Heart-shaped potato

The industrial world was built on a love of potatoes? Photo by Michael Kooiman

If you take the view that people were employed on farms for a reason, they’d still be needed on the farms when the Industrial Revolution happened. If those people suddenly aren’t there, why doesn’t mass starvation follow? Nunn and Qian argue there was a change in agriculture too, and that was potato farming. The idea isn’t new. The spread of potato farming and it’s influence on feeding people has been argued for by historians. Nunn and Qian’s paper, The Potato’s Contribution to Population and Urbanization, is different because it’s quantitative.
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Hybrid proline-rich proteins and cell elongation

Hybrid proline-rich proteins and cell elongation

Hybrid proline-rich proteins and cell elongation

The growth of plant cells is generally related to loosening of the cell wall, which allows cell expansion driven by osmotic water uptake. Dvorakova et al. demonstrate a correlation between over-expression of genes encoding members of the family of hybrid proline-rich proteins (HyPRPs) and enhanced elongation of tobacco BY-2 cells. The results suggest that HyPRPs, more specifically their C-terminal domains related to lipid transfer proteins, represent a novel group of proteins involved in cell-wall loosening.

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