Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the news

From EurekaAlert!
  • Introduced parasitoid (Lathrolestes nigricollis) knocks back birch leafminers in the American northeast.
  • China's "Green Great Wall", a forest shelterbelt running parallel to the Great Wall "could lead to an increase in precipitation by up to 20 percent and decrease the temperature in the area."
  • High levels of nitrogen in the Seymour Aquifer in Texas makes much of the water unsuitable for human consumption, but could reduce fertiliser addition when used for irrigation.
From Science Daily
  • Plants moving north as the climate warms may have better defenses than native plants, giving the invaders an edge.
  • Hybrid vigour in crop plants attributed to "increased expression of genes involved in photosynthesis and starch metabolism in hybrids and polyploids. These genes were expressed at high levels during the day, several-fold increases over their parents."
  • Non-target insects are affected more by pesticides than by GM crops which express insecticides.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reconstructing the Sudden Oak Death epidemic

Biology-blog reports on a study that reconstructs the Sudden Oak Death epidemic in California. The paper is due to be published "early online" later this month in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

8000-year-old spruce roots

Martin Rundkvist talks about some recent discoveries
New research by Leif Kullman at the University of Umeå is just being reported on by the media... no standing trees older than 600 years ... But below ground, the living roots of three trees gave radiocarbon dates at 5,000, 6,000 and 8,000 years BP! The oldest root system thus dates back from the end of the latest glaciation.
Pretty cool stuff. Now here's the interesting question - can someone find something similar in an area that wasn't glaciated? What's the real maximum age for individuals like this?

Update: Reed E. in the comments answers that question (though, sadly, without a reference, so take this with a grain of salt)

While the Norway Spruce is a fine tree, its clonal colonies have nothing on the Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides.) There's Pando in Utah, a single clonal colony that is thought to weigh 6,000 tonnes and perhaps as old as 80,000 years.

Posted by: Reed E | April 8, 2008 8:14 PM

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tangled Bank #102

Tangled Bank #102 is up at Further Thoughts. Berry Go Round #3 was published a week ago at Greg Laden's blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Berry Go Round #2

The second edition of Berry Go Round, the plant-focussed blog carnival, is up at my main blog.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Svalbard Global Seed Vault opens

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened today on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, receiving inaugural shipments of 100 million seeds that originated in over 100 countries. With the deposits ranging from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato, the first deposits into the seed vault represent the most comprehensive and diverse collection of food crop seeds being held anywhere in the world.
The purpose of the repository is to preserve crop genetic diversity. I think it's an important project, but is it really enough?

Source: EurekaAlert!

Additional coverage from the New York Times.

New genetic tools for working with peas

The pea is one of many important crop species that is unsuited to the Agrobacterium-based genetic modification techniques that are commonly used to work with crops. Researchers, reporting in the open access journal Genome Biology have now discovered the first high-throughput forward and reverse genetics tool for the pea (Pisum sativum), could have major benefits for crop breeders around the world..

Researchers from the INRA Plant Genomics Research Unit at Evry, and the INRA Grain Legumes Research Unit at Bretenières, both in France, both in France developed a high-quality genetic reference collection of Pisum sativum mutants within the European Grain Legumes Integrated Project. Abdelhafid Bendahmane and colleagues used plants from an early-flowering garden pea cultivar, Caméor, to create a mutant population, which they then systematically phenotyped for use in both forward and reverse genetics studies.

Source: EurekaAlert!

Composting to fight climate change?

From EurekaAlert!
Applying organic fertilizers, such as those resulting from composting, to agricultural land could increase the amount of carbon stored in these soils and contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research published in a special issue of Waste Management & Research (Special issue published today by SAGE).

Carbon sequestration in soil has been recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the European Commission as one of the possible measures through which greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated.

One estimate of the potential value of this approach – which assumed that 20% of the surface of agricultural land in the EU could be used as a sink for carbon – suggested it could constitute about 8.6% of the total EU emission-reduction objective.

“An increase of just 0.15% in organic carbon in arable soils in a country like Italy would effectively imply the sequestration of the same amount of carbon within soil that is currently released into the atmosphere in a period of one year through the use of fossil fuels,” write Enzo Favoino and Dominic Hogg, authors of the paper.

The number - 0.15% - seems small, but this is deceptive - it's still an awful lot of carbon. I'd be more interested in the mechanics of how they're going to get this done...but that would probably require actually reading the journal. The press release addresses an important point

However, capitalizing on this potential climate-change mitigation measure is not a simple task. The issue is complicated by the fact that industrial farming techniques mean agriculture is actually depleting carbon from soil, thus reducing its capacity to act as a carbon sink.

but answers this by saying

According to Hogg and Favoino, this loss of carbon sink capacity is not permanent. Composting can contribute in a positive way to the twin objectives of restoring soil quality and sequestering carbon in soils. Applications of organic matter (in the form of organic fertilizers) can lead either to a build-up of soil organic carbon over time, or a reduction in the rate at which organic matter is depleted from soils. In either case, the overall quantity of organic matter in soils will be higher than using no organic fertilizer.
Let us hope it's that simple.

Draft corn genome

A team of scientists led by Washington University in St. Louis has begun to unlock the genetic secrets of corn, a crop vital to U.S. agriculture. The researchers have completed a working draft of the corn genome, an accomplishment that should accelerate efforts to develop better crop varieties to meet society's growing demands for food, livestock feed and fuel....
The genetic blueprint will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 28, by the project's leader, Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics Conference in Washington, D.C.
Source: EurekaAlert!

Related: from Iowa State University News Service: Iowa State researchers help piece together the corn genome's first draft

Also, from

Friday, February 22, 2008

Invasive plant journal launched

The Weed Science Society of America has launched a new journal, Invasive Plant Science and Management. The first issue is expected in the first quarter of 2008. The society is soliciting articles in:

[T]he biology and ecology of invasive plants in rangeland, parkland, prairie, pasture, preserve, urban, wildland, forestry, riparian, wetland, aquatic, recreational, rights-of-way, and other non-crop settings; genetics of invasive plants; social, ecological, and economic impacts of invasive plants; design, efficacy, and integration of control tools; land restoration and rehabilitation; effects of management on soil, air, water, and wildlife; scholarship in education, extension, and outreach methods and resources; technology and product reports; mapping and remote sensing, inventory and monitoring; technology transfer tools; and regulatory issues.