Plants make Christmas, from the wreath on the door to the brussels sprouts on the table. In celebration of plant science and this most planty time of year, here’s some Christmassy plant science for you to enthral (or bore?) your nearest and dearest with next week. Perhaps while some of them are trying to watch the Made in Chelsea Christmas Special…
The Holly and the Ivy: Holly reacts to herbivores by making some leaves prickly while leaving others smooth – a form of heterophylly, where a plant has two or more types of leaf. This story from Science Daily also features ivy – science inspired by S’Cliff Richard himself!
I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus: Mistletoe is already a ‘complementary and alternative’ cancer treatment (see the National Cancer Institute for more information), but a new study indicates it may become the source of a new mainstream anti-cancer drug. Researchers from the University of Adelaide have shown that an extract from mistletoe species Fraxini effectively reduces the viability of colon cancer cells, and is more potent than a chemotherapy drug.
We Three Kings: Frankincense is harvested from Boswellia papyrifera by ‘tapping’ the tree trunk and collecting the resin. Over-harvesting a tree ironically causes resin production to fall or cease as the tree expends resources on healing the wounds caused by tapping, and can even kill the tree as pathogens take advantage of the damage to the trunk. The Annals of Botany blog highlighted a paper published in Annals of Botany about the anatomy of the resin secretory system, and how the knowledge can improve sustainability of frankincense harvesting.
Oh Christmas Tree: If you have a live Christmas tree, it’s likely to be very similar to the conifers that dinosaurs roamed around. A study published in BMC Biology in October (Pavy et al., 2012) showed that the genomes of spruce and pine, which diverged 100 million years ago, have high synteny and co-linearity, suggesting no major genome changes have occurred. Senior author on the paper, Professor Jean Bousquet from Université Laval in Quebec, said, “Conifers appear to have achieved a balance with their environment very early. Still today these plants thrive over much of the globe. In contrast, flowering plants are under intense evolutionary pressure as they battle for survival and reproduction.”
Finally, for non-planty but very funny Christmas-based ‘science’ (inverted commas necessary), check out Dr Molecule’s latest blog post.
I am delighted to welcome Nick Harberd (The University of Oxford), Antony Dodd (The University of Bristol), and David Salt (The University of Aberdeen) to the GARNet Advisory Committee. They will be joining the current committee, who are pictured below. Ian Moore, Juliet Coates (neither are pictured) and Nick Smirnoff will be rotating off the committee to make way for the new committee members. Also not pictured are Sabina Leonelli and Charis Cook.
The second of our video podcasts from PlantSci 2012 is from Katherine Denby, from the University of Warwick. She works on how plants respond to changes in their environment, and in particular in response to pathogens. If you have a slightly cloudy idea of what systems biology is she explains it very well here, including how it can affect future food security. She also explains why she works on Arabidopsis, saying, “It’s just so much quicker to do things in Arabidopsis!”
At April’s UK PlantSci 2012 conference, GARNet made video podcasts of five researchers talking about their work, the challenges facing plant scientists, and the state of UK plant science today. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting them on the blog.
The first video is of John Runions from Oxford Brookes. He explains how he uses fluorescent proteins and microscopy to visualize processes inside living cells, and discusses the importance of Arabidopsis thaliana research for food security and forestry science – in his words, ‘Arabidopsis has been the paradigm in plant biology research.’
Even if you don’t work on trichomes, you have definitely experienced them first-hand, as stings on nettles are trichomes that have evolved down a particularly nasty route. Other trichomes pack less of a punch, but they are still important for phytochemical production and herbivore defence.
Arabidopsis trichomes are rather more tame than stinging nettle trichomes, and present an excellent way to study cell differentiation as well as being a target for crop improvement. But although trichomes are easy to see using light microscopy, they are difficult to study. Manually counting them and recording their length and position is tiresome in the extreme, and imaging technologies tend to require specialized skills and software that not all labs can access.
In today’s highlighted paper, Pomeranz et al. present a new method of analysing trichomes consisting of polarizing light microscopy (PLM) and a web-based imaging tool. In fact PLM is an old technique described by Ballard in 1916, and is an excellent way of imaging trichomes because of the highly crystalline cellulose in trichome cell walls which confers polarizing (birefringent) properties. As the authors say, this new technique is a ‘repurposed’ method, and the key to the novel technique is the online resource TRICHOMENET, which allows imaging and easy analysis of trichomes, and can be linked with ImageJ.
It certainly appears that this method would be easy to set up in any lab. Preparing samples for PLM involves methanol or ethanol, lactic acid, and a water bath – the method is in the paper or in Bischoff et al. (2010). PLM itself requires polarizing filters, which can be bought in a kit, for example from Motic, or as individual filters. The image is then uploaded to TRICHOMENET, which guides the user through counting the trichomes. Once the data is recorded, TRICHOMENET can analyse trichome positional data, density, and distances.
Highlighted article: Marcelo Pomeranz, Jeffrey Campbell, Dan Siegal-Gaskins, Jacob Engelmeier, Tyler Wilson, Virginia Fernandez Jelena Brkljacic, and Erich Grotewold (2012) High-resolution computational imaging of leaf hair patterning using polarized light microscopy. The Plant Journal ‘Accepted Article’, doi: 10.1111/tpj.12075
Image credit: Emmanuel Boudet.
Yes, it’s nearly Christmas and before you know it, we’ll be into the new year. Here’s some dates for your diary so you can at least start 2013 on top of things.
Major Funding deadlines
ERA-CAPS First Joint Call: 15 Febuary
BBSRC: 9 January; 21-22 May; June (TBC).
EPSRC: Outline proposal batch meetings 11 February; 15 April; 16 June.
FP7 KBBE theme: 5 Febuary
ERC Consolidator Grants: 21 February
The latest edition of GARNish is now available to download online. It contains the latest news from the plant science community, funding, and dates for your diary. There are features on next generation sequencing, the 1001 Genomes Project, and Teaching Tools in Plant Biology. Last but not least, we shine the spotlight onto the University of Bath and the University of Bristol.
Many thanks to all who contributed to this issue, especially Arthur Korte, Paula Kover, Claire Grierson, Antony Dodd, Kerry Franklin, Heather Whitney, Gary Foster, Ian Moore, Smita Kurup, Mimi Tanimoto, Paul Wiley, Malcolm Bennet, and Mary Williams.
Download GARNish here: http://www.garnetcommunity.org.uk/newsletters
Cover image credit: Envel Kerdaffrec, Gregor Mendel Institute.