2016 “How Plants Work” News Highlights – April

From Cancer-Fighting Plants To Cadmium-Sniffing Moss

Sadly, those who teach classes about plant physiology often feel the need to justify why plants are important.

That’s how I usually began the first lecture in my Botany and Plant Physiology courses back in the day when I was boring undergraduate students.

Most of these students could appreciate that plants were often the basis for many medicines, but few of them had heard about the idea of using plants as bio-indicators of heavy-metal air pollution.

The April 2016 plant research news had stories about both of these plant uses…and more.

  • Can the plants that have been used for thousands of years as traditional Chinese remedies be used as the basis for effective modern medicines? A crucial step toward answering this question is to determine the metabolic pathways in plants that lead to the biosynthesis of beneficial compounds.

    For example, “The Chinese skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis – otherwise known in Chinese medicine as Huang-Qin – is traditionally used as a treatment for fever, liver and lung complaints.
    New research led by Professor Cathie Martin of the John Innes Centre has revealed how a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine produces compounds which may help to treat cancer and liver diseases.

    Scientists discover how Chinese medicinal plant makes anti-cancer compound.

  • Plasmodesmata are complex “…communication channels in plants that bridge individual cells with their neighboring cells for distribution and exchange of nutrients, minerals and cellular signals….

    How the flow of materials through these channels is regulated is not well understood.

    Researchers identify two enzymes that regulate communication channels in plants.

  • Is the Earth getting greener? A recent NASA study says yes.

    One of the most important questions currently puzzling plant ecologists and physiologists is how the increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 will affect plants.

    From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.

    Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds

  • Many plants, especially legumes, benefit from symbiotic soil bacteria that can chemically modify atmospheric nitrogen to make it plant-usable.

    Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have discovered that a strain of beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria has spread across California, demonstrating that beneficial bacteria can share some of the same features that are characteristic of pathogens.

    Bacteria Beneficial to Plants Have Spread Across California

  • Moss have been used as bioindicators—living organisms that can help monitor environmental health—by the Forest Service and other agencies for decades. Because moss lack roots, they absorb all of their water and nutrients from the atmosphere, inadvertently taking up and storing whatever compounds happen to be in the air.

    Research published last April from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station indicates that moss may be a sensitive indicator for airborne cadmium.

    Moss is useful bioindicator of cadmium air pollution, new study finds.

    To Be Continued….

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