2016 “How Plants Work” News Highlights – January

Happy New Year!

Since 2012, here at the “How Plants Work” blog, I’ve ended the year by taking a look back at the plant-research news from my HPW Twitter feed over the past twelve months, and then sharing a few of the “tastier” tidbits, month-by-month.

So, welcome to the fifth-annual review of plant research news for 2016.

Let’s get the ball rolling with news from January 2016…

From Orchid BO to Dandelion Latex

  • “Orchids are masters of deception. To lure potential pollinators, some resemble nectar-laden flowers, yet offer no sweet reward. Others smell like rotting meat. Still others look and smell like female insects. Now, sensory biologists have discovered orchids that emit an odor just like the human body. Their target: tiger mosquitoes.

    One of the most re-tweeted plant news items from January 2016 was:

    Orchids give off human ‘body odor’ to attract mosquitoes.

  • Agricultural grafting dates back nearly 3,000 years. By trial and error, people from ancient China to ancient Greece realized that joining a cut branch from one plant onto the stalk of another could improve the quality of crops.
    Now, researchers at the Salk Institute and Cambridge University have used this ancient practice, combined with modern genetic research, to show that grafted plants can share epigenetic traits,…

    Grafting a part of one plant onto another plant for crop improvement has been around for a long time. Scientists have recently discovered that small bits of genetic material can move across the graft.

    Grafted plants’ genomes can communicate with each other.

  • No plant is an island. By this I mean that no plant in nature lives in isolation from other organisms, especially microorganisms. And many plants may rely on some bacteria and fungi for their survival. Thus, research in the field of plant-microbe interactions is quite lively.

    Two examples of such research were published last January:

    Scientists have wondered for years how legumes such as soybeans, whose roots host nitrogen-fixing bacteria that produce essential plant nutrients out of thin air, are able to recognize these bacteria as both friendly and distinct from their own cells, and how the host plant’s specialized proteins find the bacteria and use the nutritional windfall.” Researchers at Mass Amherst have recently published findings that show, at the molecular level: how plants interact with beneficial microbes in the soil.

    Most land plants get a large portion of their mineral nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis. But, despite decades of research, many of the genes required to form this relationship remain elusive.” Recently at the Boyce Thompson Institute
    researchers have uncovered a core set of genes for plant-fungal symbiosis.

  • Dandelions are troublesome weeds that are detested by most gardeners. Yet dandelions also have many insect enemies in nature. However, they are able to protect themselves with their latex, a milky, bitter-tasting sap.

    Recently, scientists in Germany and Switzerland collaborated to discover a single chemical compound that may be responsible for how a dandelion uses latex to protect its roots against insect feeding.

    Next Up: Plant research news highlights from February 2016…

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