Calling all plant geeks! A slew of recent science journal stories are tracking breakthroughs in plant research, from learning plants have temperature sensors similar to their light sensors, to refining our understanding of flower timing, to identifying a gene related to hybrid vigor.
Check out these seven breakthroughs making the news.
Why are hybrids often healthier and more vigorous than their parent plants? Researchers at Kobe University in Japan have identified a gene in a Eurasian cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, that may be key to this age-old question. The gene is involved with a genetic process called methylation, which is a mechanism used by cells to control gene expression. The researchers say methylation is why identical twins, who have the same DNA sequencing, may have different traits. Different parts of the DNA code is expressed.
To conduct this study, the researchers used plants with mutations in a gene related to methylation. When a hybrid was bred in plants with mutations, the usual hybrid vigor was lowered.
Researchers at Umea University in Sweden, are taking capitalizing on how research tools have advanced to study an elusive topic previously unavailable for study: how plants time their flowering.
The part of the plant where flowering timing occurs is the shoot apical meristem. The problem has been that it consists of only a few hundred cells, far too small a sample — until now — to study effectively.
The team will study the shoot apical meristem in two plants, Arabidopsis thaliana, a common study plant with no commercial impact, and in hybrid aspen.
The team hopes they will learn how plants’ flowering will react to environmental changes.
Researchers in Japan, China, and the U.S. furthered our understanding of how blue light receptors in plants help the plant respond to natural light.
The team wanted to learn if the blue light receptors, cryptochromes, are activated in a similar way to how photosynthesis is, through photoreduction. In photoreduction, electrons are transferred, moving energy across molecules.
The group looked for plants with a mutant gene strain that does not respond in the usual way to blue light.
They learned that cryptochromes are not activated by photoreduction. So they conducted further experiments to see if they could identify what does activate and deactivate blue light receptors.
They learned that the receptors actually have a conformational change and take ona dimer form when exposed to blue light.
Scientists have known that for spiral patterns for form in a plant, plant organs like seeds, leaves, and petals must be produced with almost mathematical precision at regular intervals.
But how the plant knew to produce leaves in those specific hotspots was unknown.
It turns out that if when cells detect a concentration of the plant hormone auxin, it triggers neighboring cells to create more. And by triggering auxin production at the hot spot, auxin is reduced from other cells nearby. That means the next auxin hotspot, which triggers growth, can only form further away.
A new species of orchid has been found in Japan. It’s parasitic, in that it lives off nutrients though fungi.
So the new orchid, Lecanorchis tabugawaensis, does not use photosynthesis, resulting in a pale gold hue. Like other plants that get their nutrients this way, a group called mycoheterotrophic, this new orchid is small, rare, and found in the understory of forests.
In fact, Lecanorchis tabugawaensis is already classified as critically endangered. It’s found in only two locations on Yakushima Island in Japan.
Researchers from the University of Buenos Aires and Washington Universities have learned that light sensing molecules in plants perform a second function: sensing temperature changes.
The researchers were actually trying to study how mutations in phytochrome B were affected by various light conditions.
Some of the experimental plants, when exposed to constant sunlight, generated less of a biologically active form of phytochrome B. That was the opposite reaction they expected.
Turns out that the plants were detecting high temperatures, and began reacting as if they were in dim light, despite being in bright sunlight.
Scientists studied fossilized pollen from past climate shifts in order to gain insight to how plants may migrate in the coming decades as the planet warms.
The international team predicts we will see significant changes by mid-century.
“Our grandchildren… will see new species in forests, on prairies and scrublands, while other species, that are common in those areas today, will be gone,” says the lead author of the study, Associate Professor David Nogués-Bravo from Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Copenhagen.