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

From “Smart” Plants to “Resurrection” Grass

Last month’s plant science news featured many familiar topics from 2015, including plant-microbe interactions and the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on plants.

But perhaps the most interesting story from December 2015 involved a new theory from Princeton University biologists regarding the notion that “…ecosystems of the world take their various forms because plant “decisions” make them that way.”

One of the current “big” questions in plant biology is how the increased atmospheric CO2 that has occurred in the past century has affected plants, if at all. A report published last month provided a very interesting assertion.

Why have seed plants been so successful at spreading around the world? The answer, dear reader, may be “wax”.

When I was a professor in the Biology Department at Montana State University in the mid 1980’s, a colleague in the Plant Pathology Department, Prof. Gary Strobel, created quite a kerfuffle by attempting to combat Dutch elm disease by injecting young elm trees with genetically-altered bacteria, which, it turned out, was an unauthorized experiment at the time. When Stobel voluntarily (and somewhat dramatically) halted his experiments, this became national news.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years…there has been little, if any, subsequent evidence published that supports Strobel’s idea (see here, for example). But a new report published last month suggests that there may exist another potential biocontrol agent.

There are some plants, sometimes called “resurrection plants”, that can “come back to life” after nearly completely drying out. How can they do this? Some Australian scientists may have some clues to this mystery.

  • It’s easy to think of plants as passive features of their environments, doing as the land prescribes, serving as a backdrop to the bustling animal kingdom. But what if the ecosystems of the world take their various forms because plant “decisions” make them that way?Theory of ‘smart’ plants may explain the evolution of global ecosystems.
  • Swedish plant scientists “…have discovered that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have shifted photosynthetic metabolism in plants over the 20th century. This is the first study worldwide that deduces biochemical regulation of plant metabolism from historical specimens.Has increased carbon dioxide altered the photosynthesis of plants over the 20th century?
  • Having emerged late during evolution, seeds have transformed many plants into miniature travelers, contributing greatly to their colonization of terrestrial habitats. Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have just discovered one of the keys to this success: the cuticle.A wax shield to conquer the Earth.
  • According to a research of UPM along with other five European research centres, health of some elm trees could be related to the endophyte flora that inhabits inside these trees.Endophytic fungi in elm trees help protect them from Dutch elm disease.
  • A native Australian grass that “plays dead” during droughts and selectively culls its own cells to survive could provide genetic keys to help world food crops like chickpea withstand global climate change.Back from the “Dead” – Scientists unlock the secrets of “resurrection” grass.

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