Ready for UK PlantSci 2013

Categories: Friday Film, UKPSF
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Published on: April 12, 2013

To whet your appetite for next week’s UK PlantSci 2013 conference in Dundee, here are clips of the keynote speakers Charles Godfray (University of Oxford) and David Baulcombe (University of Cambridge). I think that the Godfray clip can be considered a very unofficial ‘preview’ of his keynote lecture Feeding 10 Billion People on a Finite Planet, which will be on Tuesday morning. David Baulcombe’s interview probably isn’t linked to his Of maize and men or peas and people lecture on Wednesday morning, but it is still a good watch – an interesting and balanced discussion about GM.

If you’re not coming up to Dundee, you can still keep up with these talks and all the others live on the Twitter hashtag #PlantSci2013. I’ll post the blog posts and reports about the conference here once they’ve trickled out, too.


Video credits: The Oxford Martin School and LEAF

Corpse Flower

Categories: Friday Film, something fun
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Published on: February 15, 2013

If you have even been close to a hawthorn tree, you will know that yesterday’s post about pretty roses and petunias didn’t tell the whole story about floral smells. Today, lets consider a flower far smellier than mildly unpleasant hawthorn blossoms – the fascinating titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum, sometimes also known as the corpse flower. It has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, emits a powerful, horrible smell like rotting flesh, and is thermogenic.

Shirashi et al. (2010, Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 74:2550) published observations of a titan arum in flower. When the petal-like spathe began to open, the plant emitted a smell like rotten fruit. As time went on, the smell became stronger and more unpleasant. When the spathe opened fully, revealing the tall spadix, the spadix became up to to 5°C hotter than the ambient temperature and secreted a strong smelling fluid like rotton flesh. The spathe was open for around 12 hours.

Shirashu et al. identified the odorous chemical emitted by the titan arum as dimethyl trisulphate, a product of bacterial decomposition of mammalian flesh. It is emitted by a few other plants, all of which, like the corpse flower, are pollinated by insects that feed on rotting flesh.

The titan arum is an impressive, but rather gruesome, plant. And like all gruesome things, it attracts visitors to science outreach events! The video above is about the Corpse Flower attraction at the Museum of Natural Science in Houston.

Video credit: VOA News, via YouTube. 


An argument for plant science funding

Categories: Friday Film, funding
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Published on: February 8, 2013

Today’s Friday Film is a sort of video blog from the Carnegie Institution. I’m not sure why it’s narrated by a computer instead of a person … but it is a concise summary of this June 2012 article in The Scientist by Tom Brutnell and Wolf B. Frommer, in which the authors argue for $100 billion funding for plant science in the US over a 10 year period.

Source: CarnegieInstitution’s Youtube channel.

Why are there no pop hits about Arabidopsis?

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Published on: February 1, 2013

Ginny from Science and Plants for Schools pointed this video out to me recently. It’s a fun but entirely accurate love song to everyone’s favourite weed, genetic treasure trove (thanks Malcolm for that great little phrase!) Arabidopsis thaliana. Listen out to the shout out for TAIR!

This video was made by Professor Karmadillo. You can find him on YouTube, on his website, and on Twitter at @singingscience.

Developmental genetics with Zoe Wilson

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Published on: January 18, 2013

In the fourth of our series of video podcasts from PlantSci 2012, Zoe Wilson from the University of Nottingham discusses about her work on Arabidopsis developmental genetics. She works on pollen, which she explains is important for food security and the cut flower industry. Like the previous interviewees Eric, Katherine, and John, she also talks about the future of plant science. She says, “The link between plants and science had been quite tenuous, more people are understanding the importance of that.”

Plant disease resistance with Eric Holub

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Published on: January 11, 2013

Here, Eric Holub from the University of Warwick describes his research on the genetics of disease resistance mechanisms as well as a bit about life in academic research in the UK. He explains the real-world application of his research on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana by saying, “If the plant can control its own diseases, chemical control will be be much less required.”

This is the third video podcast taken at the UK PlantSci conference in 2012. See the previous ones with John Runions and Katherine Denby here and here. To register for UK PlantSci 2013, go to the website.


Progress in pollen research

Time lapse video of Arabisopsis pollen grains germinating and growing pollen tubes. Credit: .

As an officer for GARNet, the Arabidopsis research network, I am happy to share the news that we can now add pollen germination to the long list of things for which our Arabidopsis can be called a model plant. The research is published in New Phytologist, and is currently in early view.

The importance of studying pollen for plant reproduction research is obvious, but it is also an excellent and widely used system for studying cell growth and development. Some plants, such as tobacco, have pollen that can be germinated on cue, and monitored in all sorts of ways as through germination, cell development, and pollen tube growth. Unfortunately brassicas, including Arabidopsis thaliana, do not have such amenable pollen.

A team of researchers from Oxford have developed a method that yields fast, reliable germination of A.thaliana pollen. The pollen tubes that grow are long and morphologically normal.

The method uses a cellulose-based membrane covering an agarose pad, all set up on a glass microscope slide. In the authors’ view, this protocol was more successful than other attempts because the environment surrounding the pollen mimics the stigma – so not only does this paper present a method of studying Arabidopsis pollen, but it provides novel information about the environmental cues required for pollen germination. The method was optimized for temperature and pH as well as the ratios of reagents used to make the materials.

Although this paper was about Arabidopsis and marks an important development for Arabidopsis researchers working on pollen and cell growth, it is also significant for Brassica researchers. The Brassica family contains many commercially important crops, and this method can surely be adapted to serve research into cabbage, oilseed rape, or other Brassica species.

Highlighted article: M. J. Rodriguez-Enriquez, S. Mehdi, H. G. Dickinson and R. T. Grant-Downton (2012) A novel method for efficient in vitro germination and tube growth of Arabidopsis thaliana pollen. New Phytologist (Early View) doi: 10.1111/nph.12037

Botrytis cinerea time-lapse

Categories: plant pathogens
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Published on: November 9, 2012

In deference to yesterday’s post on the time-course of Botrytis infection of Arabidopsis leaves,  here is a time-lapse video showing what Botrytis cinerea might look like in your kitchen at home!

If you’re interested in the wine industry’s use of Botrytis to make dessert wine, this video is quite informative and features a man eating a rotten grape.

Video credit: Cornell Plant Pathology Photo Lab

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