How Plants Worked….A Look Back at 2015 – August

From Jurassic Bark to Plant “Cell-fies”

August is typically a relatively slow month, news-wise.

Not so for the plant news of August 2015.

There were so many interesting stories that month, that it’s hard to narrow it down to less than a half dozen. But here goes….

As a new Biology faculty member at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman in 1985, I had the pleasure of meeting another MSU faculty member Dr. Jack Horner (before he became famous).

Shortly thereafter, in 1986, Jack won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. But he’s probably most famous because of his association with the movie Jurassic Park, in which dinosaurs are brought back from extinction.

An interesting piece published last August muses on the question: If you could, what plants would you bring back from extinction?

Speaking of dinosaurs, they were fading out during the Cretaceous period as angiosperms were on the rise. New research, however, suggests that their overlap may have been longer, although the notion that dinosaurs significantly affected angiosperm evolution is controversial.

And regarding flower evolution, Darwin was fascinated by orchid diversity. And this fascination has carried over to many current evolutionary biologists. A report published last August may be a major breakthrough in understanding orchid evolution.

One of the major challenges facing plant scientists in this age of global “weirding” is to understand how plants cope with environmental extremes of heat and drought. Dr. Elizabeth Vierling has worked on this subject for decades, including the role of plant heat-shock proteins in coping with temperature stress. She has recently focused her attention on another facet of plant stress, as reported in August 2015.

Finally, a report from Japan last August revealed a major advance in determining the metabolomics of a single plant cell….that is, taking a “snapshot” of the metabolic state of an individual plant cell…what I’ll call a “cell-fie“.

  • The subject of extinction and de-extinction are much in the news at the moment, but discussions tend to focus on the loss or resurrection of charismatic animals like tigers or tyrannosaurs. Where is the talk of the plant species that have been lost and that might be worth bringing back?Jurassic bark : What extinct plant species are worth bringing back?
  • The dinosaurs of Gondwana may have wandered around and died in fields of flowers that were the ancestors of daisies, suggests new research.Dinosaurs could have pushed up ‘daisies’.
  • Evolutionary biologists never lost their fascination with orchids. With more than 25,000 species, they’re the biggest group within the plant kingdom, comprising roughly 8% of all vascular plant species. Biologists have proposed various explanations for this extraordinary diversity, but it has been impossible to nail down their relative importance. Now, a new family tree of the orchids is a major step in that direction.Orchids’ dazzling diversity explained.
  • UMass Amherst biochemist studies a protein’s role in regulating nitric oxide.How plants cope with stress, at the molecular level.
  • Understanding exactly what is taking place inside a single cell is no easy task. For DNA, amplification techniques are available to make the task possible, but for other substances such as proteins and small molecules, scientists generally have to rely on statistics generated from many different cells measured together. Unfortunately, this means they cannot look at what is happening in each individual cell.Getting a picture of the molecules inside a plant cell, in just minutes.

    Next-Up: The plant news of September 2015….

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