What’s New About How Plants Work? – Some “Tasty Tidbits” from 2013 (Third Course)

From Maple Syrup to Mars

The third installment of our review of plant news of 2013 ranges from the mathematics of maple syrup to growing plants on Mars.

  • Ever wonder what drives the flow of the sugary sap of maple trees in the early spring? Well, here is a possible answer: Pancakes with a side of math: A physiological model for sap exudation in maple trees.
  • Apparently, most flowering plants, at least in natural environments, are hosts to fungi that dwell inside the plant. How these fungal symbionts affect the plants is currently an active research area in botany and microbiology. Two papers published last March provided evidence regarding how these fungal symbionts may affect their plant hosts. Symbiotic fungi may alter plant chemistry that, in turn, discourages leaf-cutting ants (A tale of two fungi). And researchers have discovered that fungal-infected rye grass plants produce less pollen than their noninfected counterparts. Instead, the fungus causes the plants to make extra seeds, which transmit the fungus to the next generation and new locations (Fungus, get off my lawn!).
  • More news about bees and flowers was published last year in March, including: Bees get a buzz from caffeine found naturally in flower nectar and How flower density impacts bee visits.
  • A plant microbiome is “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms” that are present in a given plant or plant organ, such as a leaf or a flower. Using gene-sequencing technology, scientists are able to assess the microbial diversity in a flower, for example. Such a study published last year showed an unexpected diversity in the apple flower microbiome.
  • We have been to the moon several times. Next time, we may go back for a considerable period. And concrete plans for a one-way ticket to Mars have already been forged. Food will have to be grown on location. Is this a distant future scenario?” Not for Dutch ecologist Wieger Wamelink. Growing plants on Mars.
  • Next Up: Plant news from April 2013.

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