2016 “How Plants Work” News Highlights – February

From Glowing Plants to “Talking” Plants

As usual, the plant news of February 2016, ranged from the molecular level to ecosystem level, from single plant cells to whole plants.

And since I can’t discern any common themes, I’ll go with the stories that I “tweeted” during February of last year that were “re-tweeted+favorited” the most.

  • “Synthetically engineered biosensors, which can be designed to detect and signal the presence of specific small-molecule compounds, have already unlocked potential applications, such as fuel, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Until now, however, scientists have been challenged to leverage biosensors for use in eukaryotic cells, which comprise yeast, plants, and animals.

    A team of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute and Harvard Medical School (HMS) has engineered plants that can emit fluorescence when they detect a molecule of interest, such as the human hormone progesterone or the drug digoxin.

    Plants with biosensors may light the way.

  • Last February, biologists at the University of Illinois reported the following: “The types of beneficial fungi that associate with tree roots can alter the fate of a patch of tropical forest, boosting plant diversity or, conversely, giving one tree species a distinct advantage over many others,…

    Fungi are at the root of tropical forest diversity – or lack thereof.

  • Plant health and interaction with microbes is maintained by intricate antennas – plant immune receptors. A certain class of receptors is turning out to be highly informative about plant disease resistance.

    Researchers in the UK “…have surveyed immune genes across flowering plants to uncover the molecular ‘traps’ that plants use to detect pathogens.”

    Immunity gene fusions uncovered in plants.

  • It has been known for some time that plant roots can communicate with plant shoots. Now, a new paper from Oxford researchers (working in collaboration with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing) tells us how.

    Shooting the breeze: how parts of a plant can ‘talk’ to one another for the benefit of the whole.

    And for those looking for a bit longer read….

    Reconsidering plant memory: Intersections between stress recovery, RNA turnover, and epigenetics

    This is a review article published in the 19 February 2016 issue of Science magazine. In it, the authors “…have highlighted recent advances in plant priming, memory, and epigenetics. These findings serve to demonstrate the capacity to confer acclimation and adaptive benefits within the life of a plant or future generations.

    Next Up: We “March” on….

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    1. Hello, Plant Guy!

      Just love this blog–thank you so much for offering this vital info to we the public.

      I am an instructor of Agroecology at Edmonds Community College. I am interested in the physiology of native vs invasive plants–might there be a mutualistic or symbiotic relationship between native climates/soils that may favor native plants? And might climate change’s imbalances be contributing to the proliferation of these opportunist invasives we have around here?

      Thank you for any information or studies cited where I could continue this line of thought.

      • Thanks for the positive reinforcement…I appreciate it.
        Your questions are timely and important, but you can imagine how difficult it is to design experiments to provide meaningful and conclusive answers.
        Regarding climate change and invasive plants, here is a brief take on the subject:
        But, of course, the nature of “global weirding” is so multi-faceted – higher atmospheric CO2, higher temps, less rainfall, melting of permafrost, etc. – it’s difficult to pin down exactly what environmental parameter is most significant in any one place.
        Regarding native plant/soil microbe associations – this is a big old subject that goes way back in the literature. That a plant’s ability to thrive and even survive, especially in less than “friendly” environments, often depends on microbial symbionts/mutualists is well-established. What’s mostly unknown are the reasons why (i.e., physiology). Here’s a link to a recent master’s thesis from Evergreen State that I’ve found provides some interesting background/findings. http://archives.evergreen.edu/masterstheses/Accession86-10MES/Porter_SRThesis2014.pdf
        By the way, I use Google scholar as a primary resource.

        • You are a great source! Thank you for sharing good info. I look forward to more interesting blogs from you this year!

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