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From Explaining Terroir to Hacking Photosynthesis

Looking back at the plant news from March 2015, I noticed a couple of recurring themes: how environmental microbes affect plants and how plants affect the environment.

Perhaps the most intriguing report was how soil microbes may be a significant factor in determining a specific habitat’s “terroir”, that is, how a specific location or habitat affects the characteristics of the plants growing there.

Indeed, no plant is an island. That is, microbes, herbivores, as well as adjacent plants, all may produce chemicals that affect a plant’s development and physiology.

Conversely, plants may also exude chemicals that affect the environment around them. A study published in March 2015 (see below) revealed to what degree plant defensive compounds may affect aquatic ecosystems.

Plants, like animals, get sick. But also like animals, plants have ways to defend themselves against pathogens. (Please see a previous post regarding plants’ “immune system”.)

Though mammalian immune systems are much more sophisticated compared to plants, new evidence suggests that there may be some similarities.

The main challenge to agriculture in the 21st-century is how to feed an increasing population in the face of global climate change. One way may be to significantly boost photosynthesis in crop plants. But how?

  • In the first study of an entire wine grapevine’s microbiome, researchers have found that the microbes associated with the grapes, leaves and flowers are largely derived from the soil microbes found around the plant’s roots. A vineyard’s soil microbes may shape the grapes’ microbial community.
  • Chemical changes that occur in tree leaves after being attacked by insects and mammals can impact nearby streams, which rely on fallen plant material as a food source, report scientists from the University of Chicago Department of Ecology and Evolution.Plants’ defensive responses have downstream effects on nearby ecosystems.
  • Similar to humans and animals, plants possess an innate immune system that protects them from invading pathogens. Molecular structures that do not occur in people, animals or plants enable recognition of these pathogens and trigger the immune response.A key mechanism in plant immunity decoded: Plants detect bacterial endotoxin in a way similar to mammals.
  • Using high-performance computing and genetic engineering to boost the photosynthetic efficiency of plants offers the best hope of increasing crop yields enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people on it by 2050,…
    Hacking photosynthesis? – This may be needed to feed the world by 2050.

    To be continued…

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