Crowdfunded fern genomes published in Nature Plants

Photo: Laura Dijkhuizen

On July 17, 2014, the world decided it wanted to learn the genomic secrets hidden in the beautiful little, floating water fern, Azolla filiculoides. Not only did they want to know, but they paid for it too – a whopping $22,160 from 123 backers – through a crowdfunding site called (Azolla, a little fern with massive green potential).

Four years later, they have what they paid for, and more! The project was backed at 147% of the budgeted goal, which allowed the researchers to sequence and analyze the first fern genome ever. With the extra funds, they could sequence a second fern, Salvinia cucullata. Their results appear this month in the journal Nature Plants (Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses).. . . . (read more Fern-tastic!

An orchid matches its scent rhythm to the locals

Interesting, white flowers are white to attract pollinators at night, several orchids I’ve owned have a scent that is very strong after dark but barely there during the day.

We find that the floral scent of the orchid Gymnadenia conopsea differs between day and night, and the increase in scent from day to night is stronger in populations with nocturnal pollination. This is the first study to report genetic variation in floral scent emission rhythms within the same species, and this is an important first step to understand the evolution of floral scent.

read more…

Diel pattern of floral scent emission matches the relative importance of diurnal and nocturnal pollinators in populations of Gymnadenia conopsea

Plants pass climate data onto children

Plants integrate seasonal signals, including temperature and day length, to optimize the timing of developmental transitions. Seasonal sensing requires the activity of two proteins, FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC) and FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT), that control certain developmental transitions in plants. During reproductive development, the mother plant uses FLC and FT to modulate progeny seed dormancy in response to temperature. We found that for regulation of seed dormancy, FLC and FT function in opposite configuration to how those same genes control time to flowering. For seed dormancy, FT regulates seed dormancy through FLC gene expression and regulates chromatin state by activating antisense FLC transcription. Thus, in Arabidopsis the same genes controlled in opposite format regulate flowering time and seed dormancy in response to the temperature changes that characterize seasons. paper $$

Mother knows best — how plants help offspring by passing on seasonal clues

FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC) regulates development pathways throughout the life cycle of Arabidopsis

Plant mothers talk to their embryos via the hormone auxin

Edge fires drive the shape and stability of tropical forests

The shape of the areas we protect may be more important than the size, too thin exposes them to death by fire, too round inhibits growth

In tropical regions, fires that start in grassland typically burn only the edges of forested regions, but do not spread within the forest. This behaviour starkly contrasts with wildfires in temperate forests, where the fire spreads readily through the trees via local ignition of neighbouring trees.

Using our spatial model, we showed that commonly observed ‘edge effects’ drive the stability and fate of individual forest patches. Importantly, the two competing processes of exposure to fire and propagative growth do not balance because of their very different time scales. For a forest of a given size, having a large perimeter means that it is more likely to be exposed to fire before it receives any benefit from increased tree cover due to propagative growth. Contrarily, if too dense, a forest will not grow sufficiently quickly to offset its exposure to fire, which will lead to an increase in perimeter by encroachment of grassland at the forest edges. The forests that do survive are those that end up with intermediate shapes to ensure enough perimeter growth to offset their exposure to fire.

read the paper

Global forest change map and data

Wiley Publishing has made a large amount of science available online:
Wiley Online Library, Ecology Letters

UGA researchers develop new method to improve crops

A team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a new way to breed plants with better traits. By introducing a human protein into the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, researchers found that they could selectively activate silenced genes already present within the plant.

Using this method to increase diversity among plant populations could serve to create varieties that are able to withstand drought or disease in crops or other plant populations, and the researchers have already begun testing the technique on maize, soy and rice.

They published their findings in Nature Communications.

The research project was led by Lexiang Ji, a doctoral student in bioinformatics, and William Jordan, a doctoral student in genetics. The new method they explored, known as epimutagenesis, will make it possible to breed diverse plants in a way that isn’t possible with traditional techniques.

“In the past this has been done with traditional breeding. You take a plant, breed it with another plant that has another characteristic you want to create another plant,” said Jordan. “The problem with that is getting an individual that has all of the characteristics you want and none of the characteristics that you don’t want. It’s kind of difficult. With our new technique, you can modify how the genes are turned on and off in that plant without having to introduce a whole other set of genes from another parent.”

TET-mediated epimutagenesis of the Arabidopsis thaliana methylome

Scientists find how and why behind Saxifraga’s silver crust

Silver linings – new research reveals the science behind the Saxifrage’s silver-white crust

Scientists at Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University have found that the mineral vaterite, a form (polymorph) of calcium carbonate, is a dominant component of the protective silvery-white crust that forms on the leaves of a number of alpine plants, which are part of the Garden’s national collection of European Saxifraga species.

Naturally occurring vaterite is rarely found on Earth. Small amounts of vaterite crystals have been found in some sea and freshwater crustaceans, bird eggs, the inner ears of salmon, meteorites and rocks. This is the first time that the rare and unstable mineral has been found in such a large quantity and the first time it has been found to be associated with plants.….

Hydathode pit development in the alpine plant Saxifraga cochlearis