Friday, February 15, 2019

Saffron comes from Greece

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is an autotriploid that evolved in Attica (Greece) from wild Crocus cartwrightianus

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Azolla and cyanobacterial partner evolved together for c. 100 million years

Sourced from Nature Plants

Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses

Nature Plants (2018): Published 2 July 2018


Ferns are the closest sister group to all seed plants, yet little is known about their genomes other than that they are generally colossal. Here, we report on the genomes of Azolla filiculoides and Salvinia cucullata(Salviniales) and present evidence for episodic whole-genome duplication in ferns—one at the base of ‘core leptosporangiates’ and one specific to Azolla. One fern-specific gene that we identified, recently shown to confer high insect resistance, seems to have been derived from bacteria through horizontal gene transfer. Azolla coexists in a unique symbiosis with N2-fixing cyanobacteria, and we demonstrate a clear pattern of cospeciation between the two partners. Furthermore, the Azolla genome lacks genes that are common to arbuscular mycorrhizal and root nodule symbioses, and we identify several putative transporter genes specific to Azolla–cyanobacterial symbiosis. These genomic resources will help in exploring the biotechnological potential of Azolla and address fundamental questions in the evolution of plant life.

Fig. 1

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New species of Rafflesia

New Species of Rafflesia Discovered in Indonesia

Nov 22, 2017 by Enrico de Lazaro
An international team of scientists from the United States and Indonesia has described a new species of flowering plant of the genus Rafflesia from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Rafflesia kemumu. Image credit: Susatya et al / Ministry of Environment and Forestry Republic of Indonesia.
Rafflesia kemumu. Image credit: Susatya et al / Ministry of Environment and Forestry Republic of Indonesia.
Rafflesia is a genus of holoparasitic plants without leaves and true roots, for which species of vines in the genus Tetrasigma serve as the host.
Some of the Rafflesia species are the largest flowers in the world — they can grow up to 39 inches (1 m) in diameter, weighing 10 kg. When in bloom, all flowers emit a repulsive odor, similar to that of rotting flesh.
The genus occurs at the western region of Wallace’s Line in Southeast Asia: from Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines. Of the about 30 described species, 14 are found in Indonesia.
The newly-discovered species, named Rafflesia kemumu, occurs in several regions of the Indonesian province of Bengkulu.
“Four populations of Rafflesia kemumu occur in the Palak Siring area consisting of 2-12 flower buds per population,” said Universitas Bengkulu researcher Agus Susatya and colleagues.
“The species is reported to occur in the Kuro Tidur area as well, also part of the Bukit Daun Protection Forest, and at Ipuh Production Forest, Muko-Muko Regency, Northern Bengkulu.”
The flowers of Rafflesia kemumu can reach 15-17.3 inches (38-44 cm) in diameter, according to the team.
The species flowers during any month of year, regardless of the season. However, flowering occurs more frequently from August to November than during other months and rarely in December.
Based on their observations, Susatya and co-authors recommend listing the species as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“The Palak Siring area is a famous tourism destination for Northern Bengkulu,” they explained.
“Of the four known populations of Rafflesia kemumu, one is very close to a trail within the Palak Siring Forest and is heavily visited and severely impacted from unguided tourists. The locations of the other three populations are more remote and occur in more pristine habitat.”
Rafflesia kemumu is described in a paper in the journal Phytotaxa.
Agus Susatya et al. 2017. Rafflesia kemumu (Rafflesiaceae), a new species from Northern Bengkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia. Phytotaxa 326 (3); doi: 10.11646/phytotaxa.326.3.5

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Educated plants

This story copied directly from ABC News, 7 December 2016:

Plants can learn despite absence of brain, UWA study suggests

by Tom Wildie

Pea seedlings growing in a tray indoors.

Plants have memory and can learn to associate separate events based on their association with past occurrences, a West Australian researcher says.

Associative learning was previously considered to be the domain of animals, with the brain and a central nervous system considered essential in creating memories.

However, the new results from research at the University of Western Australia (UWA) could cause a change in the understanding of how animals create memories, UWA research associative professor in evolutionary ecology Monica Gagliano said.

Associative learning is an organism's ability to create meaning between two seemingly unrelated events, much like the famous Pavlov's Dog experiment.

Professor Gagliano's research demonstrated plants have the ability to predict future events based on their association with past occurrences.

"When those events occur again together, you have to be able to anticipate, based on one event that was meaningless but now has meaning, what is going to happen next," Professor Gagliano said.

"The entire question of agency, sentience, even consciousness, becomes a topic we may now be able to treat medically and scientifically."

Professor Gagliano's research centred around teaching pea seedlings to predict the location of a light source, by creating an association with a fan.

Seedlings were placed in a Y-shaped maze, with a light source and a fan located at the top.

The plant was exposed to the fan and then immediately to light to create an association between the two, and the results were unexpected.
Plant changed growth path in anticipation

The testing was carried out across several days, with the plant responding to its photosynthetic processes when there was no light and growing to where the light was last present.

When the fan was activated, the plant changed its growth path in anticipation the light would come from a new source.

"What that meant, for the plant to choose what the fan was indicating, the plant was required to go against its own phototropic and native instinct," Professor Gagliano said.

"They overcame their own instinct and they trusted in a way, the message delivered by the fan and the association they had learned to move towards something that initially had no meaning whatsoever."

She said the result was surprising.

"It is not what you would expect from an organism that does not have a brain or a central nervous system," Professor Gagliano said.

"Plants have demonstrated that a brain and a nervous system are just one way [to create associations]."

The results could have a wider implication in the study of memory and brain function, as they demonstrate that memory creation may be a fundamental part of all organisms and that different species have different ways of accessing them.

Professor Gagliano believes the next step would be to look at how other organisms such as sponges, which are animals but don't have a central nervous system or brain, create associations

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Albino redwoods parasitic and toxic metal accumulators

Copied from Mercury News:

Albino redwoods: Mystery of ‘ghosts of the forest’ may be solved

Zane Moore, Special to the Mercury NewsAlbino redwoods are rare features of California’s redwood forests.
PUBLISHED: September 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm | UPDATED: September 12, 2016 at 7:25 am

For 150 years, they’ve been a mystery: white trees in the middle of deep green California redwood forests.

Scientists know that albino redwoods are genetic mutations that attach themselves to the roots and branches of normal redwood trees and live by drawing sugars off the huge host trees. There are roughly 400 in California, with Santa Cruz County having more than any other area. Their locations in many places are kept secret to keep poachers and souvenir hunters away.

Now, a San Jose researcher is showing that these “ghosts of the forest” may be more than a biological novelty, perhaps solving a generations-old question.

Zane Moore, a doctoral student at UC Davis, analyzed the needles of albino redwood leaves in a lab and found that they contain high levels of the toxic heavy metals nickel, copper and cadmium.

The phantomlike plants, which rarely grow more than 10 feet tall, appear to be drawing away and storing pollution, some of it occurring naturally in the soils — particularly shale soils — and some left from railroads, highways and other man-made sources that otherwise could degrade or kill redwoods.

“They are basically poisoning themselves,” he said. “They are like a liver or kidney that is filtering toxins.”

Moore, who also plans to test albino leaves for lead, mercury and other compounds, has worked with arborist Tom Stapleton, of Amador County, to carefully catalog the locations of albino redwoods across the natural range of redwood forests, which stretches about 400 miles from the Oregon border to Big Sur. Some albino redwoods also exist outside the range, where redwoods have been planted by people. There are numerous examples in the Central Valley — and even one in Seattle.

Moore’s research will be included this week at the annual Coast Redwood Science Symposium in Eureka.

“The results are fascinating,” said Emily Burns, director of science at Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco. “Albino redwoods are parasites, and if these sprouts have some sort of a function, that’s really cool.”

Additional research is needed, she said, to find answers to other key questions such as, “Why aren’t there more albino redwoods?”Researcher Zane Moore explores an albino redwood in Monterey County. (Zane Moore - Special to the Mercury News)

Albino redwoods were first documented in 1866, when one was found near San Rafael and taken to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where researchers couldn’t figure out why its waxy leaves were white. Later investigation found that the plants, which grow out of healthy redwoods, are white because of a genetic mutation that leaves them without chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants green. It’s also critical for photosynthesis, the process by which plants use the energy in sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into food.

But until recently, they were always thought to have been freeloaders, taking from the big trees and contributing nothing.

Dave Kuty, a retired Apple engineer who lives in Felton and works as a docent at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, said the easiest way to see an albino redwood is to hike the park’s loop trail near its headquarters and look for Marker 14, where an 8-foot-tall albino redwood is growing.

As the oddities have gained a following on the internet, he said, he has been less inclined to broadcast widely where the 10 others in the park are located. That’s in part to keep people from hiking off trails to find them — and also to protect the rare plants.

“Sometimes people who own them report people climbing over fences to take samples,” Kuty said. “I used to tell everyone where they were in the park, and then I’d find pieces of albino on the ground. Ever since then, I’ve been reluctant.”

Kuty, who has helped Moore with his research, said many questions remain unanswered about the mysterious plants.

“Maybe the albinos are acting like a sponge — to get the bad stuff out of the soil and the plants,” he said. “That’s a possibility, but we need to do more research.”

Some are pure white. Others are yellowish. Some “chimeras” even have leaves that are half green and half white, Kuty said.

In theory, Moore said, albino redwoods could be cloned, then planted, and potentially used to clean up toxic waste sites. In the meantime, the research continues.

“There’s nothing like walking through the forest and seeing bright white leaves,” said Burns, of Save the Redwoods League. “People have wondered about them for a long time.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

32,000 year old seed germinates and grows

2,000-Year-Old Plant Brought Back to Life—Oldest Yet

Feat may help scientists preserve seeds for the future.
By Rachel Kaufman, for National Geographic News

By Rachel Kaufman, for National Geographic News
The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous recordholder by some 30,000 years. (Related: "'Methuselah' Tree Grew From 2,000-Year-Old Seed.")
Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.
The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.
The mature seeds had been damaged—perhaps by the squirrel itself, to prevent them from germinating in the burrow. But some of the immature seeds retained viable plant material.
The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants, according to a new study. The plants—identical to each other but with different flower shapes from modern S. stenophylla—grew, flowered, and, after a year, created seeds of their own.
"I can't see any intrinsic fault in the article," said botanist Peter Raven, President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who was not involved in the study. "Though it's such an extraordinary report that of course you'd want to repeat it."
Raven is also head of National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
Plant Study May Help Seed Vaults?
The new study suggests that permafrost could be a "depository for an ancient gene pool," a place where any number of now extinct species could be found and resurrected, experts say.
"Certainly some of the plants that were cultivated in ancient times and have gone extinct or other plants once important to ecosystems which have disappeared would be very useful today if they could be brought back," said Elaine Solowey, a botanist at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel.
Solowey resurrected the 2,000-year-old date palm that previously held the title of oldest regenerated seed.
Her palm seed, though, had been buried in a dry, cool area, a far cry from the S. stenophylla seeds' permafrost environment.
Regenerating seeds that have been frozen at 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) for so long could have major implications, said Solowey, who was not involved in the new study.
That's because all seed-saving projects—the most famous being perhaps Norway's so-called doomsday vault, aka the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (see pictures)—depend on freezing seeds.
"Any insight gained on seeds which have been frozen and how to thaw them and sprout them is very valuable," she said.
The Missouri Botanical Garden's Raven added that, if we can uncover the conditions that kept the seeds viable for 32,000 years, then "if you were doing it yourself, you'd be able to preserve [seeds] for longer."
Regenerated-seed study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.