2016 “How Plants Work” News Highlights – June

From Very, Very Old Plants To New Uses For Plants

It’s been an unusually cold winter here in the upper left-hand corner of the USA, so it’s pleasant to recall the warm days of June 2016.

That month, the plant news topics ranged from ancient plants to new, exciting uses for plant biotechnology.

  • Scientists at Oxford University have discovered the oldest known population of plant root stem cells in a 320 million-year-old fossil. The cells, which gave rise to the roots of an ancient plant, were found in a fossilised root tip held in the Oxford University Herbaria.

    Scientists discover oldest plant root stem cells.

  • Farmers have monitored their fields for millennia by simply walking among the rows of plants, observing changes over time, and noting which plants do better.
    But as plant breeding technology becomes more complicated, farmers and scientists want specific data. They want to know exactly how tall the plants are, or exactly how green the leaves are In a large test field, getting exact numbers means hours or even days of labor for a plant breeder.

    A “Fit-Bit” for crop plants?

  • The genome of the corn plant – or maize, as it’s called almost everywhere except the US – “is a lot more exciting” than scientists have previously believed. So says the lead scientist in a new effort to analyze and annotate the depth of the plant’s genetic resources.

    “Amazing protein diversity” is discovered in the maize plant.

  • One of the new uses for plants is the production of vaccines and medicines. And here are two examples from June 2016.

    The fight against polio has been one of the great success stories of modern medicine, with the disease already eliminated in much of the world. However, current immunisation programmes use attenuated ‘live’ or ‘killed’ virus vaccines, both of which carry a risk of live virus escaping back into the wild.

    Plant-based vaccine among front runners in search for new polio jab.

    Tobacco, the plant responsible for the most preventable deaths worldwide, may soon become the primary weapon against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Researchers have engineered tobacco plants to produce the chemical precursor to artemisinin, the best antimalarial drug on the market.

    Genetic engineering transforms tobacco plant into an antimalaria drug factory.

    We’re half way through the “greatest hits” of plant research news of 2016, and July produced one of the most surprising plant news stories of the year. Be seeing you….

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