2016 “How Plants Work” News Highlights – October

From Flowers That Smell Like Stressed Bees To Corn That Smells Like “Help Me!”

October 2016 seemed to feature an unusual number of quirky plant news stories.

For example, we previously saw an orchid that smelled like body odor, presumably to attract mosquitos.

Now here’s another weird flower smell…

  • A new discovery takes plants’ deception of their pollinators to a whole new level. Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on October 6 found that the ornamental plant popularly known as Giant Ceropegia fools certain freeloading flies into pollinating it by mimicking the scent of honeybees under attack.

    This flower smells like a bee under attack.

  • Plants cannot simply relocate to better surroundings when their environmental conditions are no longer suitable. Instead, they have developed sophisticated molecular adaptation mechanisms. Scientists at the Technical University Munich (TUM) in cooperation with the Helmholtz Center Munich and the University of Nottingham have been able to demonstrate that brassinosteroids, which until now have mainly been regarded as growth hormones, increase the resistance of plants against frost.

    Defying frost and the cold with hormones.

  • Of the many elusive grails of agricultural biotechnology, the ability to confer nitrogen fixation into non-leguminous plants such as cereals ranks near the very top.

    Beyond genes: Protein atlas scores nitrogen fixing duet.

  • Here’s – by far – the most retweeted plant research news story of October 2016:

    It’s been a brutal forest fire season in California. But there’s actually a greater threat to California’s trees — the state’s record-setting drought. The lack of water has killed at least 60 million trees in the past four years.
    Scientists are struggling to understand which trees are most vulnerable to drought and how to keep the survivors alive. To that end, they’re sending human climbers and flying drones into the treetops, in a novel biological experiment.

    How Is A 1,600-Year-Old Tree Weathering California’s Drought?.

  • A photoreceptor molecule in plant cells has been found to moonlight as a thermometer after dark – allowing plants to read seasonal temperature changes. Scientists say the discovery could help breed crops that are more resilient to the temperatures expected to result from climate change.

    Plant ‘thermometer’ triggers springtime budding by measuring night-time heat.

  • When corn seedlings are nibbled by caterpillars, they defend themselves by releasing scent compounds that attract parasitic wasps whose larvae consume the caterpillar—but not all corn varieties are equally effective at giving the chemical signal for help.

    Researchers identify genes for “Help Me!” aromas from corn.

    Next Up: The penultimate look at plant news for 2016.

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