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Posts Tagged "plants"

Anecdotes from the Archive

The southwest bike tire massacre

puncture plant through bike tire

I recently visited Tucson, Arizona and was happy to see a fair amount of people riding bicycles rather than driving through the city’s downtown area. There are wide bike lanes and plenty of racks for parking, and even a monthly street fair where bikers can pick up new and used parts or equipment. All this [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Editor’s Selections: Plants, Ancient Homes, Amazonia, Stick Figures, Death, And The Plague

Featured in my ResearchBlogging.org column this week: First, a fantastic discussion that encompasses our relationship to the environment and the importance of local knowledge: visit Safari Ecology to learn about the importance of the plant Commelina to the Maasai. The hop over to Originus to learn how archaeologists identify dwelling sites in the absence of physical remains. While we’re [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Flying for Free the Horsetail Spore Way

Equisetum_spores_elaters_wiki_pd_200

In spite of their sedentary reputations (putting down roots being, perhaps, the ultimate symbol of stability), plants are capable of a surprising range of movements, and not just the Venus flytraps of the world. Observe: At :36, the spores appear to scuttle about like dozens of itsy bitsy spiders, and at 1:17 they launch themselves [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Suspicious Virus Makes Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees

tobacco_ringspot_virus_Li_et_al_mBio_200

When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide. And this is likely bad news for its [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

My Favorite Biology Finds in London’s Natural History Museum

img_4959_200

  This past year, I made a pilgrimage that every natural history lover should, if possible, make. I visited the Natural History Museum in London, the house that Richard Owen built, the home of the first dinosaur bones ever discovered, the first Archaeopteryx fossil, and a first-edition copy of  “On the Origin of Species”. If [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Love Wine and Tea? Scientists Discover Plant Part Whence Their Pucker Springs

tea_cup_variety_wiki_pd_200

When you take a sip of red wine or black tea, you’re swallowing a stiff swig of tannins. These astringent plant chemicals give the beverages their characteristic pucker. Now, the part of plant cells that makes and transports tannins — long overlooked by botanists — has at last been discovered, hiding right under our noses. [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

You Know You Want To Help (6-Legged) Monarchs. Here’s How.

monarch_caterpillar_milkweed_Marshal_Hedin_flickr_permission_200

Last year, a hard year by monarch butterfly migration standards, 60 million monarchs showed up at their misty wintering grounds in Mexico. This year, so far, a mere 3 million have straggled in — and late, too, according to a disturbing must-read piece (“The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear”) published last Friday in the New [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

How the Mosses That Got Run Over By a Glacier Survived Their Ordeal

moss_regrowth_pnas_la_farge_et_al_200

A few months ago, scientists revealed that some plucky mosses in Canada managed to do something long thought impossible: survive a 400-year close encounter with the business end of a glacier, and live to sprout another day. The conventional wisdom on glaciers was that they were Earth-scraping, life-razing forces of geology. Nothing could survive their [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Are Cycads Social Plants?

cycad_grove_cone_hall_and_walter_2013_200

Botanists have long puzzled over a peculiarity of ancient plants called cycads: they have huge, bright, fleshy seeds displayed in enormous cones. Yet there’s nothing correspondingly ginormous to eat and — I’ll use the polite term here — disperse them. And if their presumed former big dispersers (perhaps super-sized ice age mammals, marsupials, birds — [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Green Alga Found to Prey on Bacteria, Bolstering Endosymbiotic Theory

cymbomonas_bacteria_ingestion_current_biology_200

A green alga with throat- and stomach-like structures can swallow and digest bacteria when deprived of light, further bolstering Lynn Margulis’s widely accepted idea that the origin of the plant-powering chloroplast was a fortuitous bout of indigestion. Termed “Endosymbiotic Theory“, the idea is that early nucleated cells called eukaryotes ate bacteria that managed to escape [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Desmids at High Res, and a Slight Technical Glitch

desmid_pyrenoid_yana_eglit_200

Yesterday I suffered a mysterious blog FAIL around 1 or 2 pm eastern time. Half of my post about desmids — intricate, microscopic plants — vanished within an hour or so of publication. I didn’t realize it until around 6 pm, when I fixed it. So if you read my post yesterday but there weren’t [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Wonderful Things: Desmids, Microscopic Plants of Unusual Beauty and Oddball Behavior

Micrasterias_radiata_wiki_cc_NEON_ja_200

Sometimes I want to show you something just because it’s wonderful. So today I’m introducing a new feature: Wonderful Things. The name is taken from my blog’s masthead, but is also inspired by Howard Carter. When he broke in to the tomb of Tutankhamun, he stuck a candle in the hole and surveyed the contents. [...]

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Extinction Countdown

From Saved to Stolen: Thief Absconds with Extinct-in-the-Wild Water Lily

Nymphaea thermarum

This is why we can’t have nice species: Last week one of the world’s rarest plants was stolen from public display in London at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. An unknown thief or thieves walked in, pulled or dug up the plant and disappeared with it. The tiny thermal water lily (Nymphaea thermarum) is the [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Lawsuit to Remove Plant from Endangered Species List Completely Backfires

Indian Knob

Oh what a difference a few years makes. Just four years ago, the rare California shrub known as the Indian Knob mountain balm (Eriodictyon altissimum) was poised to drop off the endangered species list after the threats to its existence had mostly been abated. This week, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decided [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Endangered Plants for Sale Online: Are They Legal?

Pritchardia remota

Did you know that it is often legal to buy and sell endangered species of plants through the mail? It’s true. Take, for example, the rare Hawaiian palm tree Pritchardia remota, one of several species collectively known as lou’lu. The tree, like many in its genus, is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species [...]

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Extinction Countdown

What Happens When Forest Elephants Are Wiped Out in an Ecosystem?

forest elephant family

As go the elephants, so go the trees. That’s the message of a new study published in the May 2013 issue of Forest Ecology and Management that found more than a dozen elephant-dependent tree species suffered catastrophic population declines in new plant growths after forest elephants were nearly extirpated from their ecosystems. The fruit-bearing trees [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Amazing Hawaiian Plant Loved by Tourists but Endangered by Climate Change

silversword

Every year up to two million people visit Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii, the only habitat for the endangered Haleakalā silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense macrocephalum), a spectacular and unusual plant that is now threatened by climate change. According to research published January 7 in Global Change Biology, these silverswords have suffered a dramatic population decline in [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Dung from Critically Endangered Kakapo Parrots Could Save Endangered Plant

kakapo

A fossilized sample of thousand-year-old parrot dung has revealed a previously unknown ecological relationship that could help save a threatened parasitic plant from extinction. Yup, conservation science is sometimes weird. The plant in question is called Dactylanthus taylorii (aka wood rose or Hades flower). A parasitic plant that only grows on the roots of about [...]

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Extinction Countdown

Kenyans Reportedly Chewing “Potency” Herb into Extinction

Add another species to the long list of plants and animals being eaten out of existence so men can try to get it up in the bedroom. This time, instead of medically useless tiger penises or sea turtle eggs, it’s an African plant called White’s ginger (Mondia whitei ), often wrongly referred to as “white [...]

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Extinction Countdown

New record size for a genome goes to rare plant

paris japonica plant largest genome

A rare plant called Paris japonica has a genome 50 times longer than that of humans, making it the longest genome ever recorded. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, announced the discovery last week, and details appear in the September 2010 issue of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. The Paris japonica genome weighs in [...]

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Extinction Countdown

I yam what I yam–and what I yam is endangered and under-researched

Yams are an important food crop in Africa, where the tubers are eaten by 60 million people every day, as well as in other parts of the world. But despite the yam’s importance as a food source, science doesn’t really know that much about yams or exert much effort in conserving them. That needs to [...]

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Extinction Countdown

World’s smallest water lily saved from extinction

Nymphaea thermarum, world

Two years ago, the world’s smallest water lily, a plant known as Nymphaea thermarum whose pads reach only one centimeter in diameter, disappeared from its only habitat, a few square meters near a hot spring in Mashyuza, Rwanda. Local agriculture had drained the spring of most of its water, and as a result, the water [...]

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Food Matters

Introducing: The Food Matters Crew

Credit: Kathleen Raven

Do you ever wonder about the science behind your food? We do, too. Our group of writers serves up juicy topics like genetic engineering, gut bacteria and the chemical reactions that occur during cooking. Together, we’ll peer inside factory farms, dark jungles, cafeterias, laboratories and those trendy molecular gastronomy spots. Grab a bite, and sit [...]

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Lab Rat

Dawn attack: how plants anticipate pathogen infection

Image credit: James Kremer and Sheng Yang He. Reproduced with permission.

Like animals, plants are susceptible to infections from bacteria, viruses and fungi. While animals have a wide variety of immune cells and in some cases an interconnected immune system plants must rely on other methods to fight infection. A recent news bulletin from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute lists a range of exciting ways plants [...]

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Lab Rat

The manipulative friend: bacterial hijacking of plant symbiosis signalling

sarah image 1

The post this week is part of  a blog-swap with Sarah Shailes (@SarahShailes) of the Plant Scientist blog. You can read my post on plant defences against bacteria over at her blog. Members of the legume family of plants (e.g. peas, soybean) can form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria known as rhizobia. In return for receiving [...]

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Lab Rat

Making sugar from carbon dioxide: The Calvin Cycle

Leaf_1_web

The process of photosynthesis is often described as turning sunlight into sugars, and while that’s broadly true, there are two distinct biochemical reactions taking place. The first uses the sunlight to create energy inside the cell and the second takes carbon dioxide and uses it to make sugars. The second is the Calvin cycle although [...]

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Lab Rat

How the animals lost their sensors

The components of the two-component signalling system. Picture (c) me.

For free-living organisms, the ability to sense and respond to the outside environment is crucial for survival. Eukaryotes, such as animals and plants, often have highly complex network systems in place to monitor their surroundings and respond effectively, but bacteria have developed a remarkably simple system. It’s called the ‘Two Component System’ because it literally [...]

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Lab Rat

Underground Communities: The plant roots that collect bacteria

A fluorescent micrograph capturing the presence of bacteria (shown as green) on the surface of an emerging Arabidopsis lateral root (plant nuclei shown in blue). Image created by Sarah Lebeis and reposted here with permission. Credit below.

The soil is not just a single environment. To human eyes it may look like a brown layer of plant mush that fits into the rocks, but for a living environment it is highly complex. Not only must the bacteria that live within it share their space with small animals, protozoa, and fungi, but they [...]

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Lab Rat

How Barley Protects Against Invasion

A ladybird on barley - image by T. Voekler, credit below

Unlike animals, plants do not have a circulating blood system containing cell capable of fighting off bacterial invasion. Instead, they have to rely on various other techniques, which I covered in detail way back on my old Field of Science blog. One method they use is to kill off cells that are close to a bacterial or [...]

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Lab Rat

Plants that shut out bacterial invaders

A stoma! The two curved things surrounding it are the two cells that control the opening. The small oval-shaped middle bit is the stoma - a hole in the cells covering the leaf.

I have a soft-spot for plant biology. In my final year at university, having exhausted all of the bacteria-related biochemistry lectures, I took a bacteria-related lecture course with the plants department. It was a smaller department, and seemed a lot friendlier and nicer. Also the biscuits in the tea-room were cheaper. So I do like to write about [...]

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Lab Rat

Half-plant, half-predator, all-weird

Hatena

Still on my honeymoon, far away from any form of internet, so this is another old post from my previous blog. The post itself is not one of the best I’ve written, but the subject matter was so fascinating I feel it needed reposting! This post came to light due to Captain Skellet (whose been around [...]

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Lab Rat

A project for bioplastics – 10,000 bioplastic bottles

bioplastic bottle

I while ago I wrote a quick piece exploring the use of algae to produce bacterial-based bioplastics. While this blog tends to focus more on the academic side of research, it’s important to appreciate that in order to gain large-scale importance, research does at some point need to venture out of a purely academic environment [...]

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Lab Rat

Using bacteria to help prevent soil erosion – guest post from the iGEM Regional Champions

Bacteria releasing auxin, a chemical that encourages plants to develop roots and grow deep into the soil.

This is a guest post from a member of the iGEM competition team from Imperial College London. They recently won the iGEM regional championships and will be going to Boston in November to compete for the Worldwide Championships. This post describes the work they did over the summer, and how they found the iGEM experience. [...]

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Observations

The Race to Catalogue Living Species before They Go Extinct

soft-coral

The U.S. has spent several billion dollars looking for life on other planets. Shouldn’t we spend at least that much finding and identifying life on Earth? That is the argument behind a taxonomy analysis by a trio of scientists in Science, published on January 25. They argue just $500 million to $1 billion a year [...]

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Observations

Allergies from Pollen Projected to Intensify with Climate Change

allergies pollen increase climate change

Spring and summer allergy sufferers might already have noticed a slight increase in days spent sneezing each year. And new research suggests that allergies triggered by pollen are set to increase—in both duration and severity—with climate change. The seasonal scourge ragweed has already been expanding its range in North America, thanks in large part to [...]

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Observations

Will Humanity Face a Carbohydrate Shortage?

farmland-from-space

Photosynthesis is the single most important transformation on Earth. Using the energy in sunlight, all plants—from single-celled algae to towering redwoods—knit carbon dioxide and water into food and release oxygen as a byproduct. Every year, humanity uses up roughly 40 percent of the planet’s photosynthesis for our own purposes—from feeding a growing population to biofuels. [...]

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Observations

Moss Sperm Smells Sweet Enough for Sex

moss uses bugs to spread sperm

Moss, that cushy, moisture-loving ground cover, is more promiscuous than we thought. These plants might not have the sexy flowers of a peony, but according to new research, they do manage to attract small pollinators with a subtle sweet smell. Previously, scientists had presumed that these primitive plants needed a layer of water for their [...]

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Observations

A Rose Is a Rose, Until It Isn’t: 5 Reasons Plant DNA Is Totally Crazy

seedling

You may not give your houseplants enough credit. What looks like an innocent philodendron gathering dust may actually be a riddle wrapped in a mystery shrouded in potting soil…at least genetically. Turns out plants have some interesting genetic quirks that keep geneticists guessing. As challenges in finding gene-sequencing shortcuts, called barcodes, have made clear, deciphering plant [...]

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Observations

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Were Genetic Mutants

sunflower

The word “sunflower” brings to mind a mane of vibrant yellow petals encircling a dark whorl of seeds. But not all sunflowers are alike. Some sunflowers have scraggly petals, for instance, or small centers. Many of the sunflowers Vincent Van Gogh depicted in his famous series of oil paintings look rather unusual, sporting wooly, chrysanthemum-like [...]

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Observations

Green Chemistry’s Real Roots [Video]

Plants mastered chemistry a long time before humans, billions of years actually. In fact, we humans and most of the rest of the life on Earth can thank tiny cyanobacteria for mastering/evolving the molecule known as chlorophyll. Chlorophyll—a pigment that absorbs blue light—is the key to photosynthesis, and photosynthesis is the key to turning sunlight [...]

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Observations

Fossilized food stuck in Neandertal teeth indicates plant-rich diet

plant food found in neanderthal teeth

Ancient humans’ lax dental hygiene has been a boon for researchers looking for clues about early diets. Traces of fossilized foodstuffs wedged between Neandertal teeth have revealed plentiful traces of grains and other plants, supporting the theory that these heavy-browed humans were not just meat-eaters. "Many researchers have proposed biologically or technologically mediated dietary differences" [...]

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Observations

Plants cannot “think and remember,” but there’s nothing stupid about them: They’re shockingly sophisticated

New research shows that plants "can think and remember," according to a news story published this week. Plants can transmit information "from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems," BBC News wrote. The article continues to assert that plants remember information and use "information encrypted in the light to [...]

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Observations

Watching grass grow gets exciting: New videos show plants’ cellular development

3-d video capture of cellular plant growth division to form a bud

Throughout their growth cycle, plants sprout all kinds of intricate and complex structures that range from scarcely apparent to invisible in the seedling stage. Leaves, flowers and seeds can appear, seemingly out of nowhere, from a smooth stem or branch. But the details of how cellular development occurs—why one cell might give rise to petal [...]

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Oscillator

Facts to Share at Your Next Holiday Party: Mistletoe is Weird

Mistletoe growing parasitically on a tree

Scientists and other nerds love a good cocktail party fact, and one of my favorites for the holidays is that mistletoe is actually a parasite. While mistletoe is green and can get its own sugar from photosynthesis, its roots are modified to attach and penetrate through the bark of a tree, sucking out water and [...]

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Oscillator

Are plants “actually doing maths”?

Arabisopsisreadytodip

Can plants do math? That is the assertion of a new paper published in the journal eLife this week titled “Arabidopsis plants perform arithmetic division to prevent starvation at night.” The plants in question aren’t spitting out numerical answers to word problems on their leaves, but doing normal plant stuff: using energy stored as starch [...]

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Oscillator

Glowing Futures

Ow et al. Science, 1986.

Back in 2010 I was a teaching fellow for a group of undergraduates competing in the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM) with a project on “personalized” genetic engineering of plants. We designed genetic modifications that would alter flavor, color, vitamin production, and the presence of allergens, so that a gardener could customize seeds to [...]

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The Thoughtful Animal

Are Sheep Better at Botany than the US Government?

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: a seed-bearing structure that grows from the flowering part of a plant. In 1893, however, the highest court in the land ruled in the case of Nix v. Hedden that the tomato was a vegetable, subject to vegetable import tariffs. Unfortunately, the vegetal confusion did not end in 1893. [...]

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