Plant Science for Christmas

Categories: something fun
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: December 20, 2012

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.

Image credit: Holly (ilex aquifolium) by Alfred Borchard; Pine Wood by Hajnalka Ardai Mrs., all via stock.xchng.

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