How Plants Work – “Greatest Hits” of 2017 – July

Natural Number 7 (CC BY 2.0) by Simon Dean

From Human Brains to Subway Systems.

Several of the most popular plant-related news stories on my HPW Twitter feed in July 2017 couldn’t be much more diverse. Interestingly, these three stories are bracketed by reports regarding the nature of plant development, both from The Salk Institute.

  • “Plants and brains are more alike than you might think: Salk scientists discovered that the mathematical rules governing how plants grow are similar to how brain cells sprout connections. The new work, published in Current Biology on July 6, 2017, and based on data from 3D laser scanning of plants, suggests there may be universal rules of logic governing branching growth across many biological systems.”
    How plants grow like human brains.
  • Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) have discovered a new, yet simple, way to increase drought tolerance in a wide range of plants. Published in Nature Plants, the study reports a newly discovered biological pathway that is activated in times of drought. By working out the details of this pathway, scientists were able to induce greater tolerance for drought-like conditions simply by growing plants in vinegar.”
    Vinegar: a cheap and simple way to help plants fight drought.
  • “A collection of images of unusual, intriguing, and beautiful trees and forests around the world, from Madagascar to Poland, Scotland to Hong Kong, the United States, and more.”
    A Walk in the Woods: A Photo Appreciation of Trees.
  • “Photosynthesis, which allows energy from the sun to be converted into life-sustaining sugars, can also be hazardous to green plants. If they absorb too much sunlight, the extra energy destroys their tissue. To combat this, green plants have developed a defense mechanism known as photoprotection, which allows them to dissipate the extra energy. Researchers from MIT and the University of Verona have now discovered how the key protein in this process allows moss and green algae to protect themselves from too much sun.”
    Harnessing the right amount of sunshine.
  • “It might seem like a tomato plant and a subway system don’t have much in common, but both, it turns out, are networks that strive to make similar tradeoffs between cost and performance. Using 3D laser scans of growing plants, Salk scientists found that the same universal design principles that humans use to engineer networks like subways also guide the shapes of plant branching architectures. The work, which appears in the July 26, 2017, issue of Cell Systems, could help direct strategies to increase crop yields or breed plants better adapted to climate change.”
    How plant architectures mimic subway networks.

    One of the most unusual plant-related news stories of 2017 was also one of the most retweeted. And it appeared last August. Find out what it was next time.

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