Plant Biology (SC/BIOL 2010 4.0)

Welcome to the Plant Biology (SC/BIOL 2010.04) course website (from 1998 through 2015). This is your central source for announcements, lab and lecture information, handouts, past tests, useful links etcetera.


11 July 2018: From time to time, additions will be made to the Plants in the News section.

Plants in the News

22 May 2021 Plants in the News: Dandelion Summer

Dndelion flower Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) go in and out of fashion. For decades, they were weeds, to be rooted out of lawns everywhere. Now, they seem to be making a comeback, at least according to CBC News: Lawns gone wild: Why you might just have to learn to love dandelions. Un-Weeding is one theme from the article.
Dandelions are not native in North America. Originally from Europe, they have traveled with humans globally. The greens (and flowers) are edible. Rabbits love them, as do humans in the know. It might be preferable to conserve native species and native ecosystems --which a lawn is definitely not. Still, dandelions are an enjoyable dash of color in spring and late summer. More information is available: Taraxacum (dandelion).

21 April 2021 Plants in the News: Old Seed Banks Tabulated data for seed longevity and presence in wooded ecosystems (Bormann and Likens, 1979)

"William Beal started a long-term study on seed germination in 1879. He buried 20 bottles with seeds in them for later researchers to unearth and plant." How long could the seeds remain dormant, then germinate? The scientists are still unearthing them to find out. The results are ecologically very important because they are central to the concept of a soil seed bank --a reservoir of seeds available for growth. The inset photo (right) shows seed bank data for wooded ecosystems in the northeast (from a seminal work by Bormann and Likens (1979) Pattern and Process in a Forested Ecosystem).
National Public Radio (NPR) provides the newsy context: The secret mission to unearth part of a 142-year-old experiment (by Nell Greenfieldboyce). The photo of William Beal and students in the article is notable for the posters above the group --showing the devious and aberrant sexual behaviour of fungal rust (still a devastating pathogen of cereal crops).

12 April 2021 Plants in the News: Phenology

images of black willow stipule and leaf unfolding --10 April 2021 Phenology is all about seasonal timing of biological changes. Dormancy break (leaf unfolding and flower appearance) is occurring now. Annual timing varies with weather (especially temperature) and also climatic changes (over the long-term). There are citizen networks in North America that document changes on a yearly basis. A Canadian phenology network is: naturewatch. engaging citizens in science. A USA network is: USA-NPN. National Phenology Network.

16 March 2021 Plants in the News: Glacier Meltdown Photograph of Polytrirchum moss from the Denali National Park in Alaska (by Robbie Hannawacker)

Climate change is a big issue in the news media. Scientists often get their best insight into climate change by looking at past climate shifts recorded in geological and fossil records. In recent news, glacier core borings from the 1960s were rediscovered in a freezer. They had been extracted at a military installation (Camp Century) in Greenland, then forgotten. What was of interest to the scientists were soil cores at the bottom of the borehole. They revealed fossil vegetation that was about 1 million years old. Twigs and mosses were readily identifiable, including Polytrichum juniperinum (right). What does this mean? That the overlying glacier --1400 meters deep-- had melted away in a relatively recent --and major-- climate warming event!
Science Daily News provides a newsy context: Scientists stunned to discover plants beneath mile-deep Greenland ice.
The science was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA): A multimillion-year-old record of Greenland vegetation and glacial history preserved in sediment beneath 1.4 km of ice at Camp Century.

21 February 2021 Plants in the News: Root Circumnutation

drawings of oak radicle circumnutation from Darwin's Power of Movement in Plants (1880) Plant shoot apices often move circularly as they grow up, as do tendrils searching for something to grasp to anchor the shoot. The same kind of circumnutation (circular movement) is performed by roots when they search for the path of least mechanical resistance as they grow down into the soil. This has been known for centuries. Darwin devoted a book to The Power of Movements in Plants (1880). Now, the genetic and functional underpinnings are becoming very clear.
The sciency article was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA): Mechanism and function of root circumnutation. The article includes some very cool time lapse movies.
A review of root circumnutations was published in the American Journal of Botany: Circumnutation as an autonomous root movement in plants.

29 January 2021 Plants in the News: Lichen Sex: Who Knew? Drawing of Cladonia stellaris (reindeer moss)(by Lucy Taylor)

Reindeer mosses (Cladonia spp.) are a common ground cover in lichen woodland ecosystems north of 55 degrees. Black spruce or jack pine trees are sparse with a dense cover of the fruticose lichens underneath. Lichen woodlands are prone to sporadic fires, a succession of lichens spread after the fires, Cladonia stellaris is a climax species. So what about sex? Well, lichens can sexually reproduce, but they mostly propagate asexually. In fire ecosystems, asexual propagation of Cladonia stellaris was expected. So when scientists collected and sequenced DNA samples in longitudinal transects, they expected genetic uniformity consistent with asexual propagation. Instead, they discovered surprising diversity indicative of lots of sex!
Courthouse News provides a newsy perspective: Reindeer lichens are having more sex than imagined.
The American Journal of Botany published the science: Population genomics of a reindeer lichen species from North American lichen woodlands.

31 December 2020 Plants in the News: Human Weeds

Graph of human population versus time Because of human population growth, our earth is under pressure. The satirist Ambrose Bierce described the problem in his definition of "Man" more than 100 years ago:
"MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada." [Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary. 1911]
The similar ecologies of weeds and humans
Are humans an 'infestation' (a population so large as to cause damage or disease)? Biologists and ecologists believe that excess human populations are difficult to sustain long term because of the finite carrying capacity of the earth, so 'infestation' might be a realistic viewpoint. Certainly, the heavy impact of human pressure on the global biota is real (7 May 2019 Plants in the News: Human Extinction). The crop scientist Jack Harlan saw it in a different light, tempered by the nature of weed infestations:
"Homo sapiens is perhaps the weediest of all species, and the more he dominates the landscape, the more he seems to thrive. If we confine the concept of weeds to species adapted to human disturbance, then man is by definition the first and primary weed under whose influence all other weeds have evolved." [Jack Harlan: Crops and Man. 1992]
Weediness is not a useful attribute for long-term survival. Per the quotation fron Harlan at right, human domestication --that is, population control-- may be the best solution:
"If man does succeed in controlling his own population size, we shall have an example of a weed becoming domesticated." [Jack Harlan: Crops and Man. 1992]
Caution is urged. Social history is replete with the tribalism of the well-off versus the poor, in which population control is considered synonymous with 'weeding the human garden', removing undesirables. Even Margaret Sanger --a pioneering birth control activist-- supported a eugenics approach:
"Birth Control does not mean contraception indiscriminately practised. It means the release and cultivation of the better elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extinction, of defective stocks--those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization." [Margaret Sanger: High Lights in the History of Birth Control. 1923]
A biologist might advocate a non-anthropocentric alternative view: that human weeds threaten the Garden of Life.

20 December 2020 Plants in the News: Travels with Maize Maya and Aztec Gods of Maize (circa 715 and 1400)

The domestication of crops went hand in hand with the appearance of civilized humanity. Some major grain crops were domesticated in central Eurasia and eastern Asia. Maize and potatoes were domesticated in the Americas. How were these crops domesticated? The genetic part of the answer is buried in the archaeological record. The most recent advances rely on genome sequencing of prehistoric crop samples. For maize, the oldest sequences date back 1,900-2,300 years ago. They point to the migration of maize varieties from Mexico (the location of the original domesticates) to South America, and back again.
Science Daily provides a newsy perspective: Ancient DNA continues to rewrite corn's 9,000-year society-shaping history.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) published the science: Archaeological Central American maize genomes suggest ancient gene flow from South America.

23 November 2020 Plants in the News: ID Pollen with Deep Learning

Colorised drawings of four pollen types If you ever have difficulty with pollen identification exercises, scientists have found a solution for you --supperresolution imaging and deep learning. The supperresolution refers to high resolution confocal laser microscopy using multiple photomultiplier detectors that increase the spatial resolution of 3D reconstructions. The deep learning refers to deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs), computational machine-learning models that are used for image pattern recognition.
Will it help you identify pollen? Yes...
The sciency article was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA): Improving the taxonomy of fossil pollen using convolutional neural networks and superresolution microscopy.
Commentary is provided by Alexander E. White: Deep learning in deep time.

13 November 2020 Plants in the News: Medicago vaccine

Among the many Covid-19 vaccines in development right now, some have roots in Canada. One of these is a virus-like particle (VLP) grown in a tobacco species Nicotiana benthamiana. The strategy involves expressing the spike protein of Covid-19 in a form (VLP) that can be easily purified and induces an immune response. Injecting the VLP into humans does in fact elicit antibodies against Covid-19 when it is injected with an adjuvant (which encourages the immune system to produce antibodies).
Medicago is the Quebec-based company responsible for the research on plant-based vaccine development.
Reuters provides a newsy perspective: Canada bets on imports as home-grown COVID-19 vaccine heads to large-scale trials.
Wikipedia provides an updated overview of the status of the various vaccines in development: COVID-19 vaccine.

9 October 2020 Plants in the News: Peace Prize for Feeding Humanity

Sunrise rainbow after wheat harvest The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations's World Food Programme for for "its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict."
The formal announcement is available at: Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 is awarded to the World Food Programme WFP. The announcement highlights that "...the combination of violent conflict and the pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation. In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Programme has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts."
Newsy descriptions are available from most news media on the internet and elsewhere, including CBC News.

5 October 2020 Plants in the News: Canola at the Movies Percy movie posters --Christopher Walken is shown in corn (left), corrected to canola (right)(Mongrel Media)

In the midst of concerns about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the 1990's, a Saskatchewan farmer (Percy Schmeiser) became a poster-boy for anti-GMO activism. Now, he has been replaced by Christopher Walken in a Mongrel Media movie entitled Percy. Percy Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto for growing Roundup Ready canola without paying a licensing fee. The legal issues relate to licensing of genetically-modified crops, a subject covered here in 21 February 2013: Plants in the News Patented Inventions that Self-Replicate: Roundup Ready Soybean. The canola lawsuit was eventually decided in Monsanto's favour at the Canada Supreme Court.
CBC News provides a newsy perspective (by Bonnie Allen): New movie about Sask. farmer who went up against Monsanto dredges up old fight over accuracy of his story.
Wikipedia provides a legal synopsis of the case: Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser.

9 September 2020 Plants in the News: Broccoli and Dark Matter

Brassica varieties The news is actually about a very large camera sensor that will be used for large-scale mapping of the universe. To trial the sensor, the artisans used a 150 micron pinhole, and imaged (among other things) a head of broccoli. Eventually, the sensor will be mounted on a land-based telescope (at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile) for panoramic astronomical surveys.
The sciency report was published by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory: Sensors of world's largest digital camera snap first 3,200-megapixel images at SLAC. Here is a link to the Romanescu broccoli pinhole image.
Courthouse News Service provides a newsy description of the research (by Amanda Pampuro): World's largest camera moves from broccoli to dark matter.

28 July 2020 Plants in the News: Microbial Methuselah growth of ancient microbes on various carbon substrates

Bacterial immortality is a popular news topic --highlighted here in 5 October 2018 Lithospheric Cyanobacteria. The latest is the resuscitation of bacteria from extremely old (101.5 million years) marine sediments. A variety of bacterial groups were identified on the basis of 16S rRNA sequences: including Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Alphaproteobacteria et alia.
The sciency article was published in Nature Communications: Aerobic microbial life persists in oxic marine sediment as old as 101.5 million years.
Wired Magazine provides a newsy perspective (by Matt Simon): Mad scientists revive 100-million-year-old microbes.

21 July 2020 Plants in the News: Sensing Accumulated Cold

Higher accumulations of NTL8 during cold acclimation Cold sensing provides an environmental cue for seed germination and flower induction. It is not the cold alone, but how much cold has accumulated. At a threshold of accumulated cold, the winter season is nearing its end. Zhao et al. identified one of the mechanisms for sensing accumulated cold: A transcription factor NTL8. At warm temperatures, growth of the plant dilutes the amount of NTL8 present. It accumulates in the cold because of slow plant growth at low temperatures.
The sciency report was published in Nature: Temperature-dependent growth contributes to long-term cold sensing.
Science Daily provides a newsy description of the research: Botany: Slow growth the key to long term cold sensing.

4 July 2020 Plants in the News: Operation Pollinator woodlot border planted in pollinator-friendly legumes

Planting flowers for pollinators is a popular activity for children at school and home. Some of the projects are targeted for broader impact: involving farmers and foresters. Soil conservationists buy into national and international endeavours, because planting wildflowers is usually synonymous with planting forage cover. Forage cover helps prevent soil loss by wind and rain erosion. Some of the seed mixes are legume-rich (various clovers). Others are wildflower-rich (milkweed, asters, goldenrods, etcetera).
A newsy take on Syngenta's commitment can be found at: Syngenta Operation Pollinator on-farm program expands its footprint in Ontario (2018).
More practical descriptions can be found at Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association --OSCIA (Operation Pollinator) and Soil Conservation of Canada (OperationPollinator --multifunctional landscapes).

3 June 2020 Plants in the News: Nuclear Winter

Impact on crop yields if limited nuclear warfare occurs, causing nuclear winter During hot weather, it is not a relief to think about the converse of global warming --global cooling-- because the likely causes of cooling involve atmospheric dust, elevated by an asteroid strike or limited nuclear warfare (involving, say, Pakistan and India). Grim scenarios. Nevertheless, scientists get intrigued by the question: How much would global cooling diminish crop yields? The answer is 'a lot'. The decrease in crop yields would be greatest in northern temperate regions --for example, Canada.
The sciency report was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: A regional nuclear conflict would compromise global food security.
New York Post provides a newsy article with a catchy title: Nuclear conflict anywhere would cause crop crisis everywhere.

21 May 2020 Plants in the News: Bumblebee Bites Plant --Flowering Ensues Bumblebee (Bombus) illustration from 1646 etching

Bumblebees are major pollinators, and are even known to shake flowers to harvest pollen (see 28 June 2013: Plants in the News The Bee's Buzz on Plant Sex). Even more surprising, when pollen is scarce, bumblebees will wound plant leaves. One of the consequences of wounding is that the plant will induce more flowering, a process that takes 30 days or so. Thereafter, the bumblebees can feast!
A newsy report can be found at Scientific American (by Jim Daley): Bumblebees bite plants to force them to flower (seriously).
The sciency research was published in Science: Bumble bees damage plant leaves and accelerate flower production when pollen is scarce.

26 April 2020 Plants in the News: Rising CO2 and Ontario Crop Yields

CO2 elevation in Ontario from 2005 to 2016 How will elevated carbon dioxide (and warming) affect crop yields? The answer varies depending on the local climate, rain and temperature. In Ontario, warming and increased precipitation are expected (the growing season increased 1.45 days per decade from 1950 through 2013). Actual measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Ontario (Simcoe county) are available from 2005 as part of global monitoring (see graph). The ''wiggle' is due to seasonal variation in photosynthesis and is typical for northern mid-latitudes. Up to 2013, there hasn't been an increase in corn and soybean yields that can be attributed to elevated carbon dioxide, warming, or higher rainfall. Other factors (such as the cost of fertilizer, new crop varieties, diseases, insect pest outbreaks, and the timing of rain) can have significant effects on yields. Since 2013, climatic changes have been accelerating, so the next study may reveal a stronger effect.
The sciency report was published in Science Reports: A Bio-Economic Crop Yield Response (BECYR) model for corn and soybeans in Ontario, Canada for 1959-2013.
The lead author (Qin Xu) is a PhD student at the University of Guelph: A day in the life of Qin Xu, PhD student.

15 April 2020 Plants in the News: Flower Recovery after Misadventure Cercis (redbud) illustration from Woods's Student Atlas of Flowering Plants (1974)

To ensure maximal pollination, many flowers have a well-defined orientation (including nectary location) as part of the attraction for pollinating insects. Should the flower be injured, some flowers (especially bilaterally symmetrical ones --redbud is an example shown at right) can recover their normal orientation in about 48 hours.
A newsy report can be found at Vox (by Brian Resnick): This study on flower resilience is the most beautiful thing I've read during the pandemic.
The sciency research was published in New Phytologist: Floral reorientation: the restoration of pollination accuracy after accidents.

5 April 2020 Plants in the News: Blue Beets

Beet Blue (blue pigment inspired by betalain) It will not revolutionize the dye industry, but is a promising biomimetic approach to designing dye compounds. In this case, betalains that are found in red beets were the inspiration to create an easily synthesized metal-free blue dye (BeetBlue).
The New York Times provides the newsy coverage (by JoAnna Klein): How do you make a less toxic blue dye? Start with red beets.
The sciency report was published in Science Advances: A metal-free blue chromophore derived from plant pigments. The senior author was Erick Bastos: Bastos Research Group, Instituto de Química, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil.
A review of some of the chemistry inspired by plant pigments was published in Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências: Chemistry inspired by the colors of fruits, flowers and wine.

19 March 2020 Plants in the News: Plant Carnivores Drosera illustrations from Darwin's Insectivorous Plants (1875)

Darwin's fascination with insectivorous plants is well known, especially amongst members of the numerous carnivorous plant societies around the world. Plant carnivores continue to be a rich mine for scientific research. In the latest, the analytical approach was biomechanical, using a finite element approach common to mechanical engineers. How does the plant undergo the fast morphological changes necessary to trap the insect (illustrations at right)? An assymetric cellular architecture? Probably.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences thought it was interesting enough to deserve a cover photo: Cover Images.
The sciency research explaining it all --cool movies included: Metamaterial architecture from a self-shaping carnivorous plant.

21 February 2020 Plants in the News: Plant Music

Conzya canadensis with a treble clef overlay Plants do not have human-like artistic creativity (their beauty is in the eye of the human beholder!). Even so, NPR news highlighted some commercial products that amplify the 'music of plants'. It actually sounds cool (very new age!). What is really happening is that the electrical circuit is transforming leaf surface resistance changes into musical variations, as guided by the circuit design.
NPR provides the newsy coverage (by Sophie Haigney): The lessons to be learned from forcing plants to play music, including a playable clip of the 'plant music'.
Agricultural engineers have been interested in monitoring the electrical properties of plants to assess their health in the field for many decades. The most common measurement is of the electrical capacitance of leaves and/or stems, because capacitance and water status of the plant are related. A sciency report from Penn State News highlights recent research: Leaf sensors can tell farmers when crops need to be watered.

16 February 2020 Plants in the News: Sonic Plant Growth Mikania micrantha by Jee and Rani Nature Photography (License: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mikania micrantha is known as the "mile-a-minute-weed" because of its remarkable rate of growth (about 20 cm per day). The question for scientists is why does it grow so fast? With a complete genome sequence in hand, the reasons are becoming clearer. Part of the physiological cause of fast growth is its ability to fix carbon dioxide from the air using CAM photosynthesis at night (storing carbon in malate), and C3 photosynthesis during the day. A typical CAM plant only opens its stomates at night to minimize water loss during the day. In contrast, Mikania micrantha keeps its stomates open during both night and day, providing a 2-fold increase in carbon availability. The stems alone can sustain rates of photosynthesis sufficient for growth. To provide the building blocks of protein synthesis necessary for growth, the plants recruit soil bacteria to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into usable reduced forms. To inhibit growth of plant competitors, it exudes allelochemicals. The genome is highly duplicated, both the whole genome and long segments. It contains multiple transposon sequences, that may play a role in adaptive modifications for survival and growth.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides journal club coverage: Genome of "mile-a-minute weed" hints at the secrets to its invasive success.
The sciency research was published in Science Communications: Mikania micrantha genome provides insights into the molecular mechanism of rapid growth.

14 January 2020 Plants in the News: Plant Immortality

Leaves of a Ginkgo tree In the biological world, longevity is very common. Any bacteria has a genealogy that eventually traces back to the origins of life four thousand million years ago. Amongst multicellular organisms, there is a fairly clear divide between determinant and indeterminate developmental patterns. Humans are determinant, reaching a well-defined developmental size (and age). Many plants are indeterminate, continuing to develop, ad infinitum. Both developmental patterns have survival advantages. Amongst plants, Ginkgo biloba is of especial interest because --as a plant species-- it has existed for about 270 million years. The oldest trees (more than 600 years old) are found in China. What are the reason(s) for their longevity? Scientists from China and Texas took a comprehensive look at young and old Ginkgos. They did not find any immortality genes! Just a long sustainment of mature growth and function.
CNN provides newsy coverage: Some trees can live for more than 1,000 years and scientists may have figured out why.
The sciency report was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): Multifeature analyses of vascular cambial cells reveal longevity mechanisms in old Ginkgo biloba trees.

4 January 2020 Plants in the News: Darwin's Plants Cover of a book by Ken Thompson on the botanical underpinnings of Darwin's Evolution

It is not a newsy item, but may be news to many: Much of Darwin's scientific research that enlightened his theory of evolution was botanical research. Ken Thompson has written all about it in a book published by University of Chicago Press. Many of his chapter titles incorporate the titles of the botanical books/publications that Darwin wrote:
  • On the movements and habits of climbing plants (1865)
  • The power of movement in plants (1880)
  • Insectivorous plants (1875)
  • On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing (1862)
  • The effects of cross and self-fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom (1876)
  • The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species (1877)
  • The variation of animals and plants under domestication (1868)
Information about Ken Thompson's book can be found online at the University of Chicago Press website: Darwin's Most Wonderful Plants. a tour of his botanical legacy

21 December 2019 Plants in the News: Devonian Roots

Tree Roots A discovery of fossilized tree root systems has reset when trees first appeared --to about 385 million years ago. Roots are the reason why trees can exist. They provide water and inorganic nutrients for photosynthesis in above-ground foliage. They provide the structural support that allows trees to grow to remarkable heights (averaging 30 meters). The fossilized root structures were discovered in a New York quarry in the Catskills, and indicate the extreme breadth and depth that roots could achieve --much earlier than previously thought.
CNN provides newsy coverage: The world's oldest known fossil forest has been discovered in a quarry in upper New York state.
The sciency report was published in Current Biology: Mid-Devonian Archaeopteris roots signal revolutionary change in earliest fossil forests.
A general description of the research and its implications can be found in Smithsonian Magazine: The world's oldest forest has 385-million-year-old tree roots.

19 November 2019 Plants in the News: Plant Sex --Long, Long Ago Artistic depiction of 95 million year old beetle

Insect pollination is a very common sexual technique amongst plants, but how old is it? Hard to say since it is difficult to catch insects and plants in the act. Now, the oldest sex act has been inferred from pollen carried on a beetle trapped in amber 99 million years ago.
The Cosmos presents a newsy report on ancient plant sex: Another tale set in amber. Ancient beetle provides evidence of pollination. More details are provided by the Daily Mail: Beetle fossilised in amber reveals earliest evidence of prehistoric pollination.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) provides the sciency information: Pollination of Cretaceous flowers, including an ecological reconstruction of the beetle Angimordella burmitina (excerpt detail shown at right) feeding on Eudicot flowers.

6 November 2019 Plants in the News: Return of the American Chestnut

Leaves and fruit of the American Chestnut American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) disappeared from North American forests because of the Chestnut blight more than 100 years ago. It was one of the first examples of the impact of foreign invasive species (in this case the fungal pathogen Endothia parasitica) on local forest ecosystems. Although hybrids with foreign species of Castanea can be resistant to the blight, it is not a replacement for a tree that once dominated the forest landscape. The most recent approach involves the use of a GMO (genetically modified) Chestnut. One gene (encoding oxalate oxidase) is sufficient to elicit robust resistance.
Associated Press provides newsy coverage: High-tech chestnuts: US to consider genetically altered tree. The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) is seeking federal approval for a restoration project that will distribute thousands of modified trees.
An example of sciency research on the GMO Chestnut is in frontiers in Plant Science: Transgenic American Chestnuts do not inhibit germination of native seeds or colonization of mycorrhizal fungi.
A general description of the research effort can be found at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Restoring the American Chestnut

21 October 2019 Plants in the News: Peat Bogs Image of a 2000-year-old bog man fron a Danish bog

Bogs are a dominant terrestrial ecosystem, covering wide swaths of northern latitudes and extending south to southern Ontario and Ireland. Many of the species found in bogs are endemic, highly specialized to grow in the acidic and nitrogen-poor conditions common to the Sphagnum-dominated peatlands. Bogs are also of great interest because of the expected impacts of global warming. The major concern is release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide as organic matter sequestered in bogs decomposes, accelerating global warming.
The New York Times presents a photogenic report on bogs: The secret world of life (and death) in Ireland's peat bogs (by Emily Toner).
The absence of decomposition can be astonishing. A man buried in a peat lake more than 2000 years ago (photograph at right) was extraordinarily well-preserved because of the bog's high acidity, low oxygen, and anti-microbials produced by the Sphagnum moss.

16 September 2019 Plants in the News: Squash Bees

A squash seed germinating out of the soil Neonicotinoids are used by farmers as an insecticide, mostly as a coating on seeds to minimize insect feeding on planted seeds. However, neonicotinoids are broad spectrum insecticides, and ecologists worry that their effects on un-targeted insect populations are more severe than expected. Initial studies of neonicotinoid application were criticized since the insecticide dosages were high. Overtime, the quality of the research has improved to evaluate 'real' levels of environmental exposure in natural settings coupled with sophisticated measurements of impact on life cycles. Work on squash bees as a model system by researchers at the Universities of Guelph and Ottawa is a good example.
Science Daily provides newsy coverage: Wild ground-nesting bees might be exposed to lethal levels of neonics in soil. It turns out that insecticide residues accumulate in the soil, and affect ground-dwelling bees in their nests near squash fields. As noted by the researchers, it will be necessary to protect bee nesting areas from insecticide application to ensure successful pollination of squash crops.
The sciency report is in Nature --Scientific Reports: Assessment of risk to hoary squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) and other ground-nesting bees from systemic insecticides in agricultural soil.
Beautiful macro photography of squash bees and a description of their life style can be found at Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography: Squash Bees

2 September 2019 Plants in the News: Drought Resistant Barley Barley (Hordeum_vulgare) illustration from Holmgren (1998) Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist Manual

Barley is already well known as a dryland (arid) crop. With global warming and increased water demand, it will become even more important as a food source for humans. Breeders have focussed on increasing tolerance to arid conditions, and have recently identified a major transcription factor that enhances drought resistance.
The Guardian presents the newsy report: Scientists isolate drought-resistant gene in barley.
The sciency article was published in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (The barley transcription factor HvMYB1 is a positive regulator of drought tolerance).
As a transcription factor, the gene controls expression of multiple genes that play a role in drought resistance --from osmolyte (proline) production to anti-oxidant systems. So the gene's effect is multi-factorial. Whether or not commercially viable (high yield) cultivars can be produced remains to be seen. Targeting multi-gene expression systems is a promising approach for developing drought resistance in other crops besides barley.

3 July 2019 Plants in the News: Botanical Bunfight

A sundew plant capturing a fly with the caption: The plant's reply to vegetarians The Guardian calls it "the biggest botanical bunfight since the Romantic era when plant biologists argued for more than a century about sex in plants", hence the heading. It's about the trendy advocacy for Plant Neurobiology, and the use of neuroscience terminology in plant research (memory, habituation, learning, sentience, consciousness), terms commonly used to describe attributes of the nervous system in animals (from sea slugs to humans). The idea that plants are sentient probably will not lead to demands for ethical guidelines for research on plants (Florianne Koechlin: The dignity of plants) --Many (if not most) scientists view the use of human-related terms like consciousness to describe plants as misleading and inappropriate. Attributing feelings to plants is a human folly. After all, insectivorous plants don't really feed on insects for revenge!
The Guardian provides newsy coverage: Group of biologists tries to bury the idea that plants are conscious.
The sciency commentary is in Trends in Plant Science: Plants neither possess nor require consciousness.

13 June 2019 Plants in the News: Sarracenia: The Salamander Eater Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) illustration from 1809 Garden Magazine

It is not all that surprising that pitcher plants --well known insectivorous plants of the northern bogs-- will also feast on vertebrates such as salamanders when they get a chance. What is surprising is how common it is: Canadian researchers found that 20% of surveyed pitcher plants in Algonquin Park contained one or more salamanders!
The Guardian presents the newsy report: Carnivorous plants have a taste for salamanders, scientists find.
The sciency article is being published in Ecology (Nature's pitfall trap: Salamanders as rich prey for carnivorous plants in a nutrient-poor northern bog ecosystem).
Entrapment by a pitcher plant relies on the slippery surface at the entry into the tubular leaf. Bio-mimicking the 'slippery slope' of plant carnivores is a serious research topic, per publications in Nature (Bioinspired self-repairing slippery surfaces with pressure-stable omniphobicity) and PNAS (Insect aquaplaning: Nepenthes pitcher plants capture prey with the peristome, a fully wettable water-lubricated anisotropic surface).

10 June 2019 Plants in the News: World Food Prize Laureate

Logo for the World Food Prize ( Simon N. Groot is a vegetable seedsman --a breeder of vegetable crops with enhanced qualities such as disease resistance, better nutrition, and productivity-- who has provided opportunities for smallholder farmers, mostly in Southeast Asia. For his 4 decades of dedicated research and development, he has been awarded the World Food Prize (worth USD250,000). The prize was created by Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Laureate who is widely considered the key originator of the Green Revolution --providing high-yielding hybrids to farmers in under-developed countries. From the award citation: "Mr. Groot has led the transition of millions of subsistence farmers, many of them women, to horticulture entrepreneurs, thereby greatly enhancing their livelihoods and income. These farmers have invigorated both rural and urban markets for vegetable crops in their communities, making nutritious vegetables more widely available and affordable for millions of families each year."
Associated Press provides newsy coverage: Netherlands vegetable seed developer wins World Food Prize. The World Food Prize Organization provides a more detailed description: Sixth-generation Dutch seedsman wins $250,000 World Food Prize.

2 June 2019 Plants in the News: Apple Genesis Apple from a local orchard in Heartland Ontario --variety unknown

The apple genus (Malus) is a complicated one, since species readily hybridize, resulting in confusing scenarios of speciation and domestication. The domesticated apple --as we now know it-- is a tetraploid (it is a hybrid of four diploid ancestors). How did it become domesticated? An initial step was the evolution of a large fruit adapted for seed dispersal by megafauna (for example, large mammals present during the Holocene). Eventually, humans appeared, ate the wild fruits, and disseminated it throughout Eurasia. Finally, hybrids were created, leading to our modern domesticated apple.
Science Daily presents a newsy description of domestication: Exploring the origins of the apple. The sciency article was published in Frontiers in Plant Science: Origins of the apple: The role of megafaunal mutualism in the domestication of Malus and Rosaceous trees.
A recent Canadian bestseller by Helen Humphreys (The Ghost Orchard. The Hidden History of the Apple in North America) (published by HarperCollins) provides an agrarian and social perspective.

24 May 2019 Plants in the News: GoldFungus

Plant-pathogenic strain of Fusarium oxysporum that causes fusarium wilt The Ascomycete Fusarium oxysporum is best known for the plant pathogen strains that cause wilting (due to invasive growth into the vascular tissue, blocking water transport). It turns out that Fusarium also mines for gold! The gold accumulates due to redox interactions that transform dissolved gold into a precipitate of very small 'nano-nuggets' (colloidal gold). Perhaps even more surprising than gold deposition is the effect on fungal growth --much higher-- when gold and a rich carbon source are provided.
The Guardian provides the newsy coverage from the Australian Associated Press: Fungi that draws gold from its surroundings discovered in Western Australia.
Australia Mining highlights its potential for identifying new gold deposits: Surprising fungi-gold interaction reveals potential for new deposits. CSIRO provides a press release and animated video: Gold-coated fungi are the new gold diggers.
The sciency coverage can be found in Nature Communication: Evidence for fungi and gold redox interaction under Earth surface conditions.

14 May 2019 Plants in the News: Roundup Lawsuits chemical structure of Roundup (glyphosate)

A number of lawsuits have found Monsanto to be responsible for cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) caused by exposure to Roundup (glyphosate). In the latest, a jury awarded the plaintiffs 2 billion US dollars (AP News: Jury: Monsanto to pay $2 billion in weed killer cancer case). The award is subject to appeal.
This is a difficult subject matter to encapsulate in a 'Plants in the News'. Glyphosate has been in use for more than 30 years as a broad spectrum herbicide --especially with glyphosate-resistant crop varieties. Roundup-ready soybean is a good example. Within 5 years of its introduction in the late 1990's, 95% of planted soybean was Roundup-ready. Glyphosate-resistant crops allowed a shift to no-tillage techniques that minimized soil erosion and nutrient loss from cropped land. It was a revolutionary shift in agronomic practice. Glyphosate is considered non-toxic and non-carcinogenic: But the use of genetically-modified crops like Roundup-ready soybean has faced public opposition (Wikipedia: Genetically modified food controversies).
Many weed species are becoming resistant to glyphosate. It has to be used in the context of "best practice" for weed management to maximize its efficacy in the field. The Weed Science Society of America pays close attention to emerging herbicide resistance (Weeds are winning the war against herbicide resistance), as well as the importance of an integrated weed management system (New herbicide technologies will fail if we don't remember past sins). All of this complexity does not fit in the typical news headlines.

7 May 2019 Plants in the News: Human Extinction

A quotation from Jack Harlan describing humanity as a weed --unless it controls its own population The United Nations published an update on the status of natural environments, and the news is not good. With increasing human populations (nearing 8 billion) and human-terraforming of land (for resource-stripping, farming and housing), a million species are expected to go extinct. Some of the headlines in the news media:
The sustainable development blog at the United Nations provides an in-depth discussion: UN Report: Nature's Dangerous Decline 'Unprecedented'; Species Extinction Rates 'Accelerating'. The plant breeder Jack Harlan provided a blunter assessment in his 1992 book --Crops and Man-- per the quotation above left.

22 April 2019 Plants in the News: Terraforming Mars Diatom, a uni-cellular phtosynthesizer of oceans, lakes, streams and soils

Science is always fun! It can be even more fun when you are playing a board game like Terraforming Mars! This is one example of science-oriented games that are on the market. Other biology-related games include Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game and Evolution.
In the case of Terraforming Mars, the challenge is to transform Mars into a habitable planet: Raising its temperature and making the air breathable, as well as creating a water cycle. This is no easy or simple feat! In the case of Earth, 'terraforming' took billions of years. One of the causes was diatoms (right), a major biomass and oxygen producer for the past 250 million years. Diatoms are found in oceans, lakes and streams, and even in the soil.
The sciency article was published in The Guardian: The board games turning science into playtime.

30 March 2019 Plants in the News: #fungalpeeps

Ascospore fomratio at the borders between mating types A and a of Neurospora crassa --by Agnes Szelag It is not every day that the New York Times decides to run an article about fungi. When they do, it tends to be offbeat. JoAnna Klein used the opening lead "It's science time in Candy Land" to describe such an offbeat experiment by a serious forest pathologist at West Virgina University --Matthew Kasson. Matthew inoculated peeps with various strains of fungi. Peeps contain high concentrations of sugars (marshmallow) and the preservative potassium sorbate, so the experiment will eventually provide information on which fungal strains can thrive in such a "hostile" environment. Penicillium has already started to grow.
New York Times published the sciency article: Injecting Marshmallow Peeps With Fungi, for Science. Matthew Kasson's twitter account provides more information on peeps and other aspects of plant pathology: @kasson_wvu. The photo (above left) shows another example of fun with fungi: fungal sex in the Ascomycete Neurospora crassa.

24 March 2019 Plants in the News: Library of Photosynthesis Diagram of light absorption/fluorescence energy levels in chlorophyll

Photosynthesis is an enlightening topic for the plant biologist! It is central to all life on earth. But we still don't understand it in its complexity: light absorption, ATP and NADPH production, carbon dioxide fixation, carbohydrate synthesis and storage and of course the regulation of all of the above. One way to reveal the full complexity of photosynthesis is the construction of gene libraries. The unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was used because it is easily manipulated genetically so that researchers can construct strains defective in single genes. The resulting 62,000-plus mutant strains were then screened to identify the strains that could not grow in light (thus defective in photosynthesis). About 20 novel proteins functioning in photosynthesis have already been discovered.
The sciency article was published in Nature Genetics: A genome-wide algal mutant library and functional screen identifies genes required for eukaryotic photosynthesis. A ScienceDaily provides a newsy explanation: Algal library lends insights into genes for photosynthesis. The actual library of mutant strains can be found at: Chlamydomonas Library Project (CLiP)

10 March 2019 Plants in the News: Patterning Pollen Surfaces

SEM image of mixed pollen by Louisa Howard at Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility Palynology --and pollen identification in general-- rely on the species-specific structure and size of pollen grains. The exine surfaces are very tough, and can exhibit structure that is quite intricate, but how is the structure formed? Physicists claim to know the answer. They suggest the underlying mechanism starts with a uniform extracellular polysaccharide layer that is mechanically coupled to the cell membrane. Phase separation causes a spatially modulated state. The final intricate shape depends upon the mechanical coupling and timing of the phase separation and its cessation. Very beautiful and complex, it is the basis of pollen identification to reconstruct past climates and ecosystems, and even forensics in a crime lab.
Cell published the sciency article: Pollen cell wall patterns form from modulated phases. Science News provides the newsy explanation: Physics explains how pollen gets its stunning diversity of shapes.

2 March 2019 Plants in the News: The Botanist in the Kitchen Kaempfer's illustration of daizu --soybean-- from his botanizing in Japan (1712)

The Botanist in the Kitchen is a fascinating blog for the botanically inclined in the kitchen. It is fun, and has been highlighted by major news media. Some topics explain the science behind the preparation and cooking of plants. There is also a botanical rant about the use of botanically incorrect illustrations of soybeans to express the 'goodness' of soybean fat/protein emulsions (soy milk --a recipe is included). A botanically correct illustration is shown (right) from Kaempfer's visit to Japan at the beginning of the 1700s. The sciency kitchen botanist can be found at: The Botanist in the Kitchen (where botany meets the cutting board). A newsy take is provided by NPR's The Salt (what's on your plate): Leave it to botanists to turn cooking into a [tasty] science lesson.

19 February 2019 Plants in the News: eDNA (environmental DNA) Unravels Pollination Mysteries

Monarch butterfly pollinating a knapweed flower at Hullet Marsh Often, pollination strategies are assumed to have a specificity. Thus, certain flower structures are best suited for specific pollinators (butterflies and composites with narrow tube flowers are one example --left). The truth is more complex than that. Researchers have spent hours sitting by flower stands and tabulating pollinating visitors to reveal that there is a higher than expected diversity of pollinators. Even greater diversity has now been revealed using eDNA --environmental DNA. These are traces of DNA left behind by flower visitors. With modern barcoding techniques, the source of the DNA can be identified. Researchers from Aarhus University (Denmark) discovered that meadow flowers were visited by at least 135 different species of butterflies, moths, bees, flies, beetles, aphids, plant bugs, spiders, etc.
Ecology and Evolution published the sciency article: Environmental DNA metabarcoding of wild flowers reveals diverse communities of terrestrial arthropods. Science Daily provides the newsy explanation: DNA traces on wild flowers reveal insect visitors.

12 February 2019 Plants in the News: Super Potatoes potato diversity --photo from International Year of the Potato - 2008

Potatoes are highly nutritious and the fourth major crop for human consumption internationally. There is a large pool of wild potato strains in South America (where potato was first domesticated) but breeding to improve potatoes has been limited by the tetraploid genetics of cultivated varieties. Novel techniques are being brought to bear on potato breeding. Science journal provides a newsy explanation: The new potato. One approach that has garnered interest in recent years is the development of diploid inbred lines to simplify breeding and create hybrids. An overview was provided in Crop Science: Reinventing potato as a diploid inbred line-based crop. To generate potato crops with hybrid vigor requires the crossing of two severely inbred lines, but potatoes are notorious for the poor survivability of inbred lines. Now, the causes are becoming clearer. The sciency article was published in Nature Genetics: The genetic basis of inbreeding depression in potato. Potato research is a good example of how science evolves to provide for humanity!

3 February 2019 Plants in the News: Tracking Tree Growth as Carbon Dioxide Elevates

Thuja occidentalis bract drawn by Alexandre Bluoin for Flore laurentienne --Frere Marie-Victorin There is a sensibility that planting more trees will help alleviate the carbon dioxide increases that are causing global warming. But do trees capture more carbon dioxide as the levels have increased? This is more difficult to unravel than one might expect at first glance, because so many different factors affect biomass accumulation by trees. Old growth white cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.) in northern Quebec provide clues. It turns out that a major impact of elevated carbon dioxide has been a shift in water use efficiency. This is because carbon dioxide enters the plant through the same stomatal structures that release water into the atmosphere. But the trees have not grown faster as carbon dioxide levels have increased. PNAS published the sciency article: North Americas oldest boreal trees are more efficient water users due to increased [CO2], but do not grow faster. Ars Technica provides the newsy explanation: Carbon dioxide's boost to trees may not offset its climate impact. Scientists at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) contributed to the research.

29 January 2019 Plants in the News: Biomimetics get a Soft Grip Redvine tendrils --photo by Christopher Meloche USDA-ARS

Engineers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Italy designed a novel soft robot that behaves like a plant tendril, and uses similar osmotic forces to curl and grip. The term soft is used to describe an intrinsic material compliance (unlike the non-deformable nature if a hard hand-like pincer). The Week provides a newsy explanation: Scientists design soft robot that creeps like plant tendrils. The sciency article was published in Nature Communications: A variable-stiffness tendril-like soft robot based on reversible osmotic actuation. Biomimetics has come a long way, and the use of hydrostatic forces --similar to those used by plants-- represents a fascinating advance, in which the biomimetic doesn't just look like a biological structure, it behaves like one too!

21 January 2019 Plants in the News: Multiple Species Symbionts

Diagram of the mycelial network enveloping the algal symbiont in a lichen Lichens are a well known symbiotic organism comprised of a fungus and an algae (or cyanobacteria). They are hardy, able to withstand extreme cold and desiccation. They can even obtain nutrients from the air. They are often the first colonizer on bare rock, and would be a good prospect for terra-forming another planet. It turns out that the lichen symbiosis is more complicated than originally thought. DNA analysis reveals multiple fungal species occur in the well-known and common 'wolf lichens'. Current Biology journal published the sciency article: Two Basidiomycete fungi in the cortex of wolf lichens. newsy descriptions are provided by Phys.Org (Individual lichens can have up to three fungi, study shows.) and The Atlantic (The Overlooked organisms that keep challenging our assumptions about life. Scientists at the University of Alberta (Spribille Lab) contributed to the research.

15 January 2019 Plants in the News: Giant Leaf for Mankind? cotton seeds from the U.S. National Seed Harbarium --photo by Tracey Slotta

The headline comes from The Guardian's report on the first farming on the moon: Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on moon. China is testing germination of cotton, canola, Arabidopsis, and potato seeds under the low gravity conditions on the surface of the moon. The Chang'e 4 lunar lander experiment also includes yeast (as a decomposer) and fruit flies (which feed on yeast) to create a very simple ecosystem on the moon. Cotton germinated first. South China Moorning Post provides additional coverage: Chinese lunar lander's cotton seeds spring to life on far side of the moon

4 January 2019 Plants in the News: Bioengineering New Photosynthetic Pathways

Limiting Factors in Photosynthetic Productivity --from Milthorpe and Moorby The major carbon fixation pathway in photosynthetic organisms uses an enzyme called RuBisCO --Ribulose Bisphosphate Carboxylase Oxygenase. When RuBisCO first appeared (about 4,000 million years ago), it worked well because atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were relatively high compared to oxygen (so carboxylase was the dominant reaction). That is no longer true, so plants have to account for non-productive oxygenase activity. The 2-phosphoglycolate produced by oxygenase has to be recycled --at some metabolic cost. Scientists have been working on alternative pathways to recycle the 2-phosphoglycolate cheaply and efficiently for years. Now, some of these pathways have been bio-engineered into tobacco, and tested for photosynthetic productivity. Science journal published the sciency article: Synthetic glycolate metabolism pathways stimulate crop growth and productivity in the field. newsy descriptions are provided by Ars Technica (Fixing photosynthesis by engineering it to recycle a toxic mistake.) and Science (Improving crop yield.). This is science at its best: It took decades and many scientists in many countries to accomplish these results, to benefit all of us.
Update (11 January): NBC News ("Plant scientists have found a way to 'hack' photosynthesis. Here's why that's a big deal") is one example of a major news organization picking up on the story.

1 January 2019 Plants in the News: Heading Towards the Light Synechococcus elongatus growing in a multicellular aggregate towards the light PNAS.10.1073/pnas.1812871115

Photosynthetic organisms display phototactic movements that allow them to grow or move to regions of optimal light intensity for photosynthesis. Even the relatively simple cyanobacteria do it. An international consortia of scientists have unraveled the simplest mechanism known that causes phototactic motility in Synechococcus elongatus. It is a 6 gene operon. Light-sensing requires a bilin chromophore --phycoviolobilin. The sciency results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS): Phototaxis in a wild isolate of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus. The science is fascinating, the paper is a fascinating read, and there are totally awesome videos of twitching motility that show how prokaryotic cells can aggregate to form multicellular structures.

25 December 2018 Plants in the News: 'Vertical' Farming

Red, blue and green LED illumination of chloroplasts in a Clark electrode Vertically integrated farming usually refers to value-added farms that grow their own crops to provide feed for their dairy cows, pigs, chickens and the like. But the term 'vertical' is also used to describe crops grown on shelves under artificial (LED) lighting. 'Vertical' farming is used to provide fresh greens for salads, but can also be used to grow other fruit/vegetable crops (such as strawberries) out of season. There is interest in using this technology in the far North to provide fresh vegetables year-round. CBC published the newsy article: Space tech that feeds high-end diners in Toronto could help Canada's North. As far as the economics are concerned, the technology is most suitable for high value crops. But, it also provides a baseline for understanding crop growth under LED lighting anywhere, even outer space or other planets: Canadian LED research looks to grow strawberries on Mars.

14 December 2018 Plants in the News: Anthropogenic Ammonia elevated atmospheric ammonia production from

Besides carbon dioxide, ammonia is another greenhouse gas that is intimately associated with human activity. Some major ammonia hotspots are due to Haber-Bosch production of ammonium --the nitrogen source for commercial fertilizers. Other hotspots are due to nitrogenous waste from animal husbandry at a factory scale (including southwest Ontario). High resolution mapping has been performed using spectra imaging by satellite. The sciency results were published in Nature: Industrial and agricultural ammonia point sources exposed.
newsy results were also published in Nature: Satellite pinpoints ammonia sources globally. and by NASA: NASA satellite identifies global ammonia hotspots.

28 November 2018 Plants in the News: There are Fungus Among Us

Neurospora crassa perithecia, which eject ascospores into the air For normal folk, knowing that there are fungus among us may be sufficient, but scientists want to know how many fungus are among us?. Now, they can find out! Mycologia published the sciency article: The Protochecklist of North American Nonlichenized Fungi. So far, it is about 44,488. The checklist is available in the pdf version but be warned: it is 118 pages long, with four columns on each page!
A newsy presentation was published by ScienceDaily North American Checklist Identifies the Fungus Among Us.
The actual databases are online at the Mycology Collections Portal. Additional links are provided to Lichen and Bryophyte Herbaria.

24 November 2018 Plants in the News: CO2 Springs elevated atmospheric carbon dioxides at three latitudes (Alaska, Moana Koa, and Argentina)

What is the effect of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on plant growth? That is a question that has been asked a lot over the past 50 years as it became clear that carbon dioxide levels were increasing. The graphic demonstrates one aspect of carbon dioxide usage: annual fluctuations due to "summer" photosynthesis in terrestrial plants. Scientists have looked at elevated carbon dioxide effects by artificially elevating it in greenhouses or even in outside plots (FACE). But there is also a natural source of plants that have grown at elevated carbon dioxide levels --near outgassing springs at various locations (often in volcanically active regions)-- for many generations. Saban, Chapman and Taylor compared the two types of elevated carbon dioxide exposures: FACE facts hold for multiple generations; Evidence from natural CO2 springs. They found that the results from artificially elevated carbon dioxide experiments were similar to naturally elevated carbon dioxide: notably increased biomass accumulations. A newsy description of the research can be found at ScienceDaily: Back-to-the-future plants give climate change insights.

15 November 2018 Plants in the News: Time Lapse Plants

Redbud dormant flower bud over 4 months of winter --time lapse animated gif The Daily Beast highlighted a new viral trend taking advantage of our digital imaging technology: The New Must-See Millennial TV Show: Watching Plants Grow and Wilt. Basically, time lapse videos of plant growth (and death) are now in fashion! This is by no means a new phenomenon, but digital capabilities have revolutionized time lapse production, making it very accessible. Take a look at the link and enjoy!
More serious presentations can be found at Plants in Motion (A wonderful collection of time lapse movies of the growth and development of higher plants. By Roger P. Hangarter.), The Cornell Plant Pathology Photo Lab (Time lapse movies of fungi, molds, bacteria, slime molds and insects of interest to plant pathologists. By Kent Loeffler.) and Movies from the Lew Lab (A compilation of movies --mostly time lapse-- of fungi, algae and plants.)

5 November 2018 Plants in the News: Soil Water Pumps schematic of soil water pumping with a day/night cycle to draw water up from a deep water table

This is unlikely to be picked up by the mainstream news media, but the concept is fascinating and it may have an impact on agriculture practice in areas of increasing drought frequency due to global warming. The basic idea is that deep rooted plant species are capable of pulling water from deep in the soil during the day. At night, some of the water is released near the soil surface and provides water for nearby shallow-rooted plants. The concept was explored by Mooney and his colleagues 40 years ago: Further observations on the water relations of Prosopis tamarugo of the northern Atacama desert. Its agricultural relevance has been demonstrated in the sub-Saharan (the Sahel transitional region) where pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is able to grow when it is associated with the native woody shrub, Guiera senegalensis: Hydraulic redistribution by native Sahelian shrubs: Bioirrigation to resist in-season drought. It is a novel strategy for overcoming drought to maintain crop productivity that may be useful in many regions around the world.
The diagram shows how this would work using alfalfa roots as an example, since they are known to develop deep tap roots similarly to Guiera senegalensis. A newsy description of the research can be found at ScienceDaily: How one tough shrub could help fight hunger in Africa.

29 October 2018 Plants in the News: Domesticating Chocolate

Cacao pods at various stages of ripening --photo by medicaster The domestication of wheat is probably more important, since it is considered the staff of life (along with rice and other grains), but chocolate (cacao) brings everything to a totally elevated level! The Guardian provides an update on chocolate. Long thought to have been domesticated by the Mayans in Mesoamerica, it turns out it was used much earlier by the Mayo Chinchipe culture in the upper Amazon: Origin of chocolate shifts 1,400 miles and 1,500 years. This is the region of highest genetic diversity of cacao and related species.
Nature ecology & evolution published the sciency article: The use and domestication of Theobroma cacao during the mid-Holocene in the upper Amazon --a fascinating read in archaeological ethnobotany.

18 October 2018 Plants in the News: Agricultural Bioweapons aphid illustration (greenbug aphid feeding on a leaf)

Some plant scientists are involved in research projects funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The aim is to disperse genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to edit crop chromosomes directly in planta. A likley vector of the virus would be aphids (right) or leaf-cutters. This has raised concerns, since the viral sequence could be modified to create a bioweapon, and the vector does not offer structural ways to safeguard from non-specific spread of the transforming system (probably CRISPR). Science journal provides the scientific perspective: Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?. The newspaper The Guardian provides a more accessible overview: US plan to genetically alter crops via insects feared to be biological war plan. Normally, bioterrorism has been a source for clickbait news, but in this case, the potential ramifications are too serious to dismiss offhand.

5 October 2018 Plants in the News: Lithospheric Cyanobacteria

diagram of a cyanobacteria from Bergen Practical Botany (cirac 1911) Astrobiologists --obsessed with the possibilities of extraterrestrial life-- look to extremophiles for inspiration. Often, their quarry are thermophiles and the like, but in the latest, they have bored deep into the earth, and come up with cyanobacteria that live more than half a kilometer deep. We usually think of cyanobacteria as photosynthesizers, using light energy to produce energy-rich carbohydrates, proteins and DNA. In this case, the cyanobacteria are using hydrogenases to trap biochemical energy. Certainly, cyanobacteria are great terra-formers, based on the earth's geological history over the past 3500 million years. This latest research reveals just how versatile they can be!
PNAS published the science: Viable cyanobacteria in the deep continental subsurface.
Update (15 June 2020): Quanta magazine provides a current overview (by Jordana Cepelewicz) (Inside deep undersea rocks, life thrives without the sun).

2 October 2018 Plants in the News: Orphan Ground Cherries Britton and Brown illustration of Physalis pruinosa (circa 1913)

Scientists are trying to increase the diversity of crops available to feed relentlessly increasing human populations. Domesticated crops exhibit an array of traits that maximize their yield and harvestability compared to wild species. One difficult-to-domesticate species is ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa), a solanaceous orphan crop from Central and South America. It has been improved using CRISPR editing to modify genes that have a strong effect on domestication. This is not as simple as it sounds, since the genes that affect domestication will vary depending upon the crop species. In the case of ground cherries, the strategies were enlightened by the closely related domesticated species, tomato. CNN news provides a general newsy report: Ground cherries, the latest modified fruit scientists want you to try. Science News provides a more nuanced description of the application of CRISPR editing for ground cherries, and its use to re-domesticate disease resistant wild species of tomato (Gene editing can speed up plant domestication). The sciency report was published in Nature Plants: Rapid improvement of domestication traits in an orphan crop by genome editing (use the Science News citation link to get the full article).

28 September 2018 Plants in the News: Arctic Plants get Taller

enclosure to keep insects out in pollination experiments in the high arctic In a long-term (30 year study), ecologists have uncovered one effect of global warming in the high arctic: an increase in plant community height (the increase was due to immigration of taller species rather than the loss of shorter ones). The scope of the analysis was vast, encompassing 117 different locations and involving an international consortia of 128 authors. The sciency report was published in Nature (Plant functional trait change across a warming tundra biome). newsy presentations include EcoWatch (Taller arctic plants could speed dangerous warming feedback) and Newsweek (Climate change is pushing plants into arctic, disrupting tundra ecosystems). Simon Fraser University gives a dronal overview: Global study finds taller plant species taking over as the Arctic warms.

21 September 2018 Plants in the News: Hemp Harvest hemp cutting and raking in Kentucky --1901

Hemp has not been in the news (unlike the marijuana cultivar). Both are the same species (Cannabis sativa L.), but hemp is optimized for fiber and oil production, marijuana for the psychoactive drug THC. With the legalization of marijuana, hemp is slowly coming back as a field crop, used for diverse products from paper to animal feed.
Hemp is an old crop, domesticated about 3000 years ago in China. It was cultivated in North America from the 1700's on, with major production in Kentucky. As the legal climate has eased, Canadian production has increased to >100,000 acres. In eastern Ontario, Valley Bio Limited is the leading source for Hemp seed genetics, including Anka, a hemp variety developed for eastern Canada conditions. At some point, you may see it growing on farm lands, but don't bother inhaling, because the psychoactive THC has been bred out of industrial hemp.

15 September 2018 Plants in the News: Excitable Plants

electrical excitation caused by red light in the green alga Mougeotis It has been known for over a century that plants exhibit electrical excitability. Plants can even respond to red light, via calcium activated ion channels (left)(from 1990). This is similar enough to electrical signals in animal nervous systems to cause some scientists (and fringe elements) to claim that plants have feelings, or can think. Science published an article: Glutamate triggers long-distance, calcium-based plant defense signaling that describes calcium waves propagating through the plant after a leaf is wounded. Elizabeth Pennisi (Science correspondent) provides a description of the calcium signaling research: Plants communicate distress using their own kind of nervous system. Please note that plants do not have a nervous system. Because plants are immobile, they have many more signaling/response defenses than their motile relatives the animals, but nothing comparable to a neuronal cell network. Unfortunately, it is the plant "nervous system" in the title that is likely to excite the news media.

12 September 2018 Plants in the News: Secret Lives of Fungi lawn mushrooms at various ripening stages

Every once in a while, someone reminds us of the wonderful world of fungi. This time it was BBC News who revealed The secret life of fungi: Ten fascinating facts. One of the most interesting claims highlighted in the article is that there are thousands of so-called fungal "dark taxa" in soil, known only through DNA sequences. Cryptic species represent an untapped biotechnological resource. In fact, a fungus was recently discovered that is capable of breaking down plastics in weeks rather than years. The sciency report comes from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: State of the World's Fungi 2018.

3 September 2018 Plants in the News: Floridean Red Tides Chemical structure of the sodium channel inhibitor Brevetoxin A produced by the red tide dinophyte Karenia brevis

Karenia brevis (as Gymnodinium breve Davis) Red tides are not all that unusual, but the magnitude and duration of the red tide on the Gulf coast of Florida this summer is way outside normality. The Weather Channel reports on one effect: Dolphin Deaths in Florida's Red Tide Disaster Prompt Federal Investigation. NBC News reports that as Florida's toxic red tide stretches on, residents report health problems. The Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce provides a species report on Karenia brevis (formerly Gymnodinium breve), the dinophyte that causes red tides. One of the major toxins it produces is brevetoxin (right), a sodium channel inhibitor that will paralyze fish and affect humans inhaling it from ocean spray.

23 August 2018 Plants in the News: Great Lakes Plastic

Figure from Matthew Hoffman showing plastis particle densities in the Great Lakes There is a growing concern about the scourge of plastic garbage world-wide, including the health impacts of micron-sized plastic particles. This also impacts local areas, like the Great Lakes. The Conversation published a recent article by researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology: Tons of plastic trash enter the Great Lakes every year - where does it go? The article includes cool simulations of lake currents to show that plastic will not form a central trash zone, unlike the plastic islands in the oceans. The science article was published by Matthew Hoffman and Eric Hittinger in the Marine Pollution Bulletin: Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes.

18 August 2018 Plants in the News: Genomic Wheat Winter wheat ready for harvest in heartland Ontario

Genome sequencing has gotten easier and quicker over the past 40 years. But even so, some crop species have not been easy to sequence and annotate. Wheat --a hexaploid with genetic contributions from three wild progenitor species-- is a good example of maximal complexity! The Smithsonian reports that Sequencing of Wheat Genome Could Lead to a Breadier Future. Science magazine provides the details: Shifting the limits in wheat research and breeding using a fully annotated reference genome. The work is headlined as a Road Map for Wheat on the front cover of the magazine.
In the long run, our understanding of the complex genetics of domestication will lead to the successful domestication of de novo crops capable of flourishing in inhospitable environs.

14 August 2018 Plants in the News: The Soybean Wars

Figure from New Phytologist paper showing three hypotheses of soybean origins Trade wars between China and the United States include tariffs on soybeans that US farmers sell to China. One result was ships loaded with soybeans anchored off the coast of China awaiting some resolution of the trade wars (or a buyer willing to pay the tariff). The international complexity of grain trade is reflected in the fact that US farmers are getting hurt, but Brazilian farmers are reaping windfall profits. Curiously, soybeans (Glycine max L.) were originally domesticated in eastern Asia (probably northeastern China) about 8000 years ago. The genetic architecture of soybean domestication and comparisons with its progenitor species (Glycine soja Sieb. & Zucc.) are intensely studied by scientists. A paper by Sedivy, Wu and Hanzawa (2017) in the New Phytologist provides a recent review.

4 August 2018 Plants in the News: Weekly Crop Updates for Ontario average precipitation for Ontario in July 2018

Getting the news from papers or TV works for most human affairs, but agriculture requires a more specialized approach. Many factors (sowing times, temperature, pest prevalence, rainfall etcetera) affect flowering, seed set and final crop yields. Detailed average rainfall maps (right) are one example of the agriculture-focused news provided by the Field Crop News, an archive of information on Ontario field crops developed and maintained by a crop technology team with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), University of Guelph faculty and Ontario field crop producers. For farmers, it is a helpful news source. For plant biologists, it provides insight into Ontario agriculture.

29 July 2018 Plants in the News: Cyanobacterial Blooms

satellite image of algal blooms in Lake Erie 25 July 2018 There has not been a lot of news coverage of cyanobacterial blooms in the Great Lakes this early in the season, but the satellite imagery is already showing extensive algal blooms in Lac St. Clair, and especially near the city of Toledo (in Ohio at the west end of Lake Erie). The cause is cyanobacteria that tend to produce an array of toxins, of which microcystins are a major health concern. The toxins can be released from the cells, and thus may be present in drinking water without any external indicator (like odor or taste). There is a recent CBC News article by Lavaniya Rajah (What you should know about toxic blue-green algae blooms) that provides a trans-Canada perspective. NOAA provides a Lake Erie specific Bulletin, updated twice weekly during a bloom.

24 July 2018 Plants in the News: Cyanogenic Clover in Heartland Ontario Bluegrass and white-clover lawn in 1912, USDA

White clover is complicated. Even the New York Times has mixed feelings about it: White clover can be an annoying weed. It may also hold secrets to urban evolution. They are highlighting research on cyanogenic white clover in heartland Ontario by Marc Johnson and colleagues at University of Toronto Mississauga, Agrosup in Dijon, France and University of Canberra in Bruce, Australia. Basically, there is evidence for urban/rural ecoclines in the ability of white clover to produce hydrogen cyanide in a number of Ontario towns and cities.
The subject matter is cool. Cyanogenesis is well documented in white clover (first reported by Mirande, M (1912) Sur la présence de la acide cyanhydrique dans le trèfle rampant (Trifolium repens L.) Compt. Rend. Acad. Sci. 155:651-653). Cyanogenesis does not impact white clover's common use as a forage plant in pastures and hay fields (White clover. USDA Agriculture Handbook 314, 1966). And contrary to the New York Times(!), people often sow a mix of white clover and grass in parks and suburban lawns, especially now, when herbicide use is frowned upon (or outlawed, as in Ontario), leading many to revert to the historical bluegrass and white-clover lawns of the early 1900's: (Lawn soils and lawns. USDA Farmers' Bulletin 494, 1912) (see photo above).

18 July 2018 Plants in the News: Clothing Made of Mushrooms

Corset image for news item on mushroom-based fabrics The idea of using mycelia to create textiles hasn't caught on with the major news media (yet), but textile and other designers are starting to 'sprout up' in North America and Europe, with names like MycoTEX and Mycoworks, and Mogu. B. Kim Taylor at Bustle provides an overview: Clothing Made Of Mushrooms Might Just Be The Future And It's Actually Pretty Cool. A more scientific angle is published by Nature --Science Reports: Advanced Materials From Fungal Mycelium: Fabrication and Tuning of Physical Properties.
There are actually GIY (Grow It Yourself) opportunities, from the long-established Ecovative Design company, where you can buy starter kits to create your own three-dimensional mycelial art.

14 July 2018 Plants in the News: Do Slime Molds Learn? Slime mold from New Zealand, photographed by Bernard Spragg

Quanta magazine provides a fascinating update on the ability of slime molds to remember: Slime Molds Remember - but Do They Learn? It is part of a long-standing controversy (and area of research) that explores the adaptive growth of slime molds under a variety of experimental conditions --proving it can habituate. Whether it exhibits primitive cognition is controversial. Randall Munroe's xkcd provides a more amusing take on why scientists find slime mold to be so beautiful.

11 July 2018: Plants in the News: Ancient Pink Pigments

spectra of common photosynthesis pigments Major news organizations headlined that The Earth's Oldest Color is Bright Pink. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported more seriously that Australian, Japanese, American and Belgium scientists sampled and identified chlorophyll progenitors (porphyrins) from 1.1-billion-year-old black shales and used them to characterize a marine ecosystem dominated by bacterial primary producers. Cyanobacteria (oxygenic) were the major group, but anoxygenic green and purple sulfur bacteria also contributed to photosynthate. There were few eukaryotic algae. Eukaryotic and multicellular organisms were not a major presence in mid-Proterozoic oceans 1600 to 1000 million years ago. Schopf (2010) provides a review on The paleobiological record of photosynthesis.

22 April 2015: Plants in the News Air-borne Micro-organisms continental distributions of air-borne bacteria and fungi

From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international consortium (many from the University of Colorado) sampled and identified bacteria and fungi in the air. Quoting from the paper: "We inhale thousands of microbial cells when we breathe in outdoor air, and some of these airborne microbes can serve as pathogens or triggers of allergic disorders. Using settled dust samples from ca 1,200 locations, we generated the first atlas, to our knowledge, of airborne bacterial and fungal distributions across the continental United States.". The map of distributions makes it clear: bacteria and fungi are everywhere (and resistance is futile).

10 February 2015: Plants in the News plantwatch

PlantWatch Logo Spring will arrive soon, and it's time to think about early flowers. Or more scientifically, their flowering time (phenology). Long-term data on flowering times are important for assessing the impact of global warming. Plantwatch has been compiling flowering times of selected species across Canada as part of NatureWatch ("a community that engages all Canadians in collecting scientific information on nature to understand our changing environment"). Check out the plantwatch FAQ to see how easy it is to participate.

2 February 2015: Plants in the News The Strange and Beautiful FungiShelf fungus, multicolored

From BBC Earth: Six Bizarre Things about Fungi. It includes beer brewing (some think human enjoyment of fermented drinks was the cause of civilization as we know it), and mind altering drugs that produce zombie ants. They throw in high speed projectiles. And, of course, the sexual habits of the Basidiomycete Schizophyllum commune... Read and enjoy!

7 January 2015: Plants in the News Novel Antibiotics from Soil Bacteria

Escherichia coli, SEM from the USDA-ARS Students are often interested in medical microbiology, but the fact is that the most interesting microbiology happens in the dirt. A good example is the recent discovery of a novel antibiotic from soil, as reported by the New York Times: From a Pile of Dirt, Hope for a Powerful New Antibiotic. It is not yet clinically proven, but initial studies using mice are promising. The sciency article was published in Nature: A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance.

1 January 2015: Plants in the News International Year of SoilsLogo for the UN International Year of Soils

BBC News asked its science editors what the big stories of 2015 would be: What science stories will be big in 2015?. Climate and space made the top ten, so did Soils. This is not a surprise to a plant scientist. On the scale of evolutionary time, soils were key, crucial to the invasion of land about 500 million years ago. Now, soils feed billions of humans (and all other heterotrophs on the land surface of the planet Earth)! The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides a central source on The International Year of Soils.

22 November 2014: Plants in the News Monarch Butterflies: The Long Road Back

Water colour of milkweed by the Botanical Illustrator Isaac Sprague The New York Times highlights some of the recent research on Monarch butterfly populations (Monarchs may be loved to death). Monarchs lay their eggs on Milkweed (Asclepias spp.). So, many gardeners have been planting milkweed to create a Monarch-friendly zone. The problem is that the common horticultural variety is not a native plant. Scientists are worried that gardeners may be harming the Monarch butterfly population because the timing of egg laying could be disrupted in the non-native species. No one is really sure what the impact is, just worried. But the take-home message is clear: If you want to plant milkweed for the Monarch butterflies, Go Native.

24 October 2014: Plants in the News Sex and the Single FernHermaphrodite and male gametophytes of the C-fern

There is a lot of research on sex determination in biological organisms, including the ferns. Sometimes it catches the eye of the media. Ars Technica reported Ferns send signals to decide what sex to be. The work was done on the Japanese climbing fern, which is an invasive weed in southeast North America. During early development of the gametophyte, the female archegonium secretes a plant hormone (gibberellin) that induces formation of the male antheridia. The sciency article in the journal Science is deeply enmeshed in hormone biochemistry, but the Perspective article (Sex and the single fern) provides an accessible explanation. When you work with C-Fern in the Plant Biology Labs, you will get to see this for yourself. The image shows an hermaphrodite surrounded by male gametophytes from the lab exercise section: Fern Development Images. Does similar hormonal control of sex determination occur in C-Ferns?

17 September 2014: Plants in the News The Art of the Diatom

Resolution calibration for microscopy, using diatoms The New York Times highlights the Artistry of the Diatom, showing a preview of a movie by the filmmaker Matthew Killip: The Diatomist , a short documentary on the work of Klaus Kemp. One of Klaus Kemp's slides is shown in the image to the left (click for a larger version). This is a utilitarian example that is used to test the resolution of microscopes. In Victorian times, microscopists would arrange the diverse forms of diatoms in larger assemblages. It was art under the microscope, and extraordinarily beautiful due to how diatoms interact with light (they are photonic crystals). Klaus Kemp is a modern practitioner of the Art of the Diatom. Artistic examples are provided in the The Diatomist [vimeo] documentary.

21 August 2014: Plants in the News Algal Bloomssatellite image of algal blooms in Lake Erie

The news coverage of cyanobacterial blooms in the Great Lakes has been extensive, especially since the city of Toledo (in Ohio at the west end of Lake Erie) had to post a warning not to use city water (now lifted). The cause is cyanobacteria and their tendency to produce an array of toxins, of which microcystins are a major health concern. The toxins can be released from the cells, and thus may be present in drinking water without any external indicator (like odor or taste). Rather than provide a link to some of the news articles, here is a link to a Cyanobacteria Factsheet [pdf] that provides more detailed information about the problem, the toxins, and assay methods. Some York graduates are employed in water quality testing jobs. The Great Lakes Research Consortium is an umbrella organization connecting aquatic biologists (and others) throughout the Great Lakes region.

6 August 2014: Plants in the News The Creeping Garden

Mycetozoa (slime moulds), by Haeckel One of the heterotroph groups we explore in Plant Biology is the plasmodial slime mould (Physarum). It has often been used in scientific research, but also as a tool for exploring rudimentary 'intelligence' and even in artistic works. All of this (and the greater diversity of the slime moulds) is captured in a documentary movie, The Creeping Garden. A preview is available on Vimeo: The Creeping Garden - official trailer. You can read a review of the movie on Twitch ("enigmatic, unique and fascinating as its subject matter, almost beyond categorisation, but filled with an insatiable child-like sense of wonder.").

15 July 2014: Plants in the News Strawberries on Mars?LED lighting for growing plants

For a trip to Mars, you really have to plan ahead, and minimize the luggage you bring with you. That includes growing your own food, and ecosystem-style recycling. Mike Dixon at the University of Guelph is exploring the use of LED lamps to grow food, maybe on a trip to Mars?. LED lighting uses very little electrical power, and can be 'tuned' to provide optimal wavelengths for plant growth and food production. His research was highlighted by CBC news: Canadian LED research looks to grow strawberries on Mars. We use LED lighting in the photosynthesis teaching lab, so you will have an opportunity to check out optimal wavelengths for photosynthesis in your own experiments.

26 June 2014: Plants in the News Food of the Future?

Ground nuts (Apios species) Most of the food we eat comes from only a very few domesticated plants species. And many of these are grown commercially as monocultures --thus susceptible to newly evolved pathogens. So plant scientists have always been interested in plant species that could readily be converted into crop species. Ground nut (Apios americana) is one example. Wired magazine provides an overview: How We Can Tame Overlooked Wild Plants to Feed the World. Another common name --traveler's delight-- gives an idea of it's nature. It was used by native americans as a food stuff: Both the seeds and tubers are edible. The image is a colorized version of a scientific illustration from 1898, drawn by Sadie Price, who discovered a new species of Apios. It was named Apios priceana in her honour: A new species of Apios from Kentucky. Apios priceana is now considered endangered because of habitat loss. Its more common relative Apios americana is not endangered.

19 June 2014: Plants in the News The Deadly MandrakeMayapple from Kohler's Medicinal Plants

That plants inspire fantastic myths is really no surprise. After all, they often contain medicinal and psychoactive compounds that affect humans, health and minds. Wired magazine had fun with one such plant: the Mandrake. If you enjoyed the Harry Potter books, mandrakes were highlighted in the Chamber of Secrets. Wired has lots more to say about the Fantastically Wrong Murderous Plant. Mandrake is a common term used to describe a mix of plant species. The notorious mandrake is the European species Mandragora officinarum (a member of the Solanaceae --Deadly Nightshade-- family). A local species sometimes called mandrake is Podophyllum peltatum (more commonly, Mayapple). Podophyllum grows in the Boyer woodlot. A scholarly description of the notorious mandrake is provided by Anthony Carter: Myths and mandrakes, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

22 March 2014: Plants in the News Ferns, Back To The Future?

Royal fern illustration Fossil ferns are abundant, but not ferns that retain their cellular structure down to the level of being able to image the chromosomes inside the cell! Swedish researchers unearthed royal ferns from about 180,000,000 years ago that retained their cellular characteristics because they were pre-mineralized by calcite from a hydrothermal brine. An article in Science provides the whole story: Fossilized Nuclei and Chromosomes Reveal 180 Million Years of Genomic Stasis in Royal Ferns. The ancient ferns are very similar to their present counterparts. Apparently, not much as changed in 180 million years!
Update (24 March): Ars Technica and the Economist are two news outlets that have picked up the story.

3 February 2014: Plants in the News Fungal HighwaysHyphal Architecture

The whole notion of interhyphal transport in fungi has been explored in mathematical detail by Louise Glass and her colleagues, in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Nuclear dynamics in a fungal chimera. It even got highlighted in the New York Times (Science Takes): The Fungus Highway. The research relies upon the availability of fungal strains (and mutants) for basic research. It is a good example of how model organisms like Neurospora crassa can enlighten our understanding about how other organisms function.

23 January 2014: Plants in the News The Perfect Veggie?

Pepper flower and fruit Ever since the molecular biology revolution took hold in the 1970's, plants have been in the forefront. The reason for this is the ease of transformation and the totipotent nature of most plant cells (from which whole plants can be regenerated). But GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have gotten a bad name amongst consumers, who worry that they will become what they eat, even though no real hazard has ever been identified with GMOs. Monsanto has a bad reputation in this regard because it is the source of well-known GMOs (especially Round Up Ready varieties of major crop plants). Now, Monsanto is turning over a new leaf, developing new varieties of vegetables and fruits using old-fashioned breeding methods. Wired magazine tells the story: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

20 January 2014: Plants in the News Cyanobacterial Bubbles?

electron transmission micrograph of Cyanobacteria Even in the modern era (the last 2000 million years), cyanobacteria still account for much of global photosynthetic productivity (Prochlorcoccus alone --highlighted here-- accounts for 10%). Yet we still know so little. The latest was highlighted in Wired magazine --Mysterious Microscopic Bubbles Baffle Ocean Scientists-- describing work from the Chisholm lab on mysterious vesicles that form on the surface of Prochlorococcus cells and then bleb off. The vesicles contain protein and DNA, and no one really knows why this happens (feeding surrounding heterotrophic bacteria is one suggestion). The sciency article was published in Science: Bacterial vesicles in marine ecosystems.

10 December 2013: Plants in the News Green Eggs and Mayonnaise?

Mayo, short for mayonnaise Plant Biology is a lot more than just smelling the flowers. It often is very directly related to Food Science. Wired Magazine covers one aspect of this --The Startup Using Peas and Algae to Make Super Eggs-- that describes the search for plant proteins that can be used to create foods like mayonnaise and eggs. In the long-term, the value-added for us is food on the table at a much lower price (plants use photosynthesis and don't have to be fed and cared for like chickens). For now, finding plant proteins that work is the major challenge.

30 November 2013: Plants in the News Jobs for Botanists?

The Botanist Frere Marie-Victorin Are there jobs for Botanists? Apparently so. The US News and World Report published an article The Academic Decline: How to Train the Next Generation of Botanists that describes the need for botanically trained biologists. The article describes the situation in the States, but similar scenarios exist in Canada. Students with a botanical background can work in a variety of jobs: From environmental assessment (and law) to science outreach. Many times, the jobs don't advertise for a 'Botanist', rather as Natural Resource Specialists, Soil Scientists, or Rangeland Management Specialists and the like. And, the job can be broader than just Botany (e.g. Field Biologist). You can get an idea about jobs for biologists from the Undergraduate Biology Careers in Biology webpage.

Carbon cycling 18 October 2013: Plants in the News Saving Us from Global Warming

Everyone knows that plants sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide because of photosynthesis. The question has always been how much of a role this plays in controlling atmospheric carbon dioxide in the short-term (centuries rather than millions of years)? reports the answer: Without Plants: Earth Would Cook. The reason is a reversal in how humans use the land. Since the 1950s, re-forestration has been significant, significant enough to sequester about 186 billion to 192 billion tons of carbon. The sciency article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's a good reason to Plant a Tree!

Microbial Dark Matter 15 July 2013: Plants in the News Microbial Dark Matter

Last year, when a student informed me that a teacher had told her that "taxonomy is dead", I was shocked. The truth is that when it comes to taxonomy, the tree of life is under constant --even surprising-- revision. The reason is sequencing. Only 15 years ago, scientists believed that plants and fungi were related. They aren't: sequencing revealed that fungi are very closely related to animals, and diverged only recently on the scale of evolutionary time. Similarly, microbial taxonomy changes daily. BBC News reported on the Genetic Secrets of Microbes based on sequencing of 201 microbe genomes from a diversity of environments. The crucial issue is that DNA sequencing has become so good that genomes can be sequenced from microbes that can't be cultured in a lab, the so-called 'cryptic biome'. The sciency report was published in Nature. The results are yet another upheaval in the revolution known as taxonomy, where 'things change faster than we can die'.

Bee covered in pollen 28 June 2013: Plants in the News The Bee's Buzz on Plant Sex

When the New York Times headlines Unraveling the Pollinating Secrets of a Bee's Buzz, you have to wonder how far a plant will go! It turns out that co-evolution works in very mysterious ways. Carl Zimmer writes about the scientists who explore a fairly common --if poorly understood-- pollination technique in which flowers will provide pollen as a food source for pollinating bees, but force the bee (often fairly large bumble bees) to 'shake' the flower at just the right frequency to release the pollen. Needless to say, some of the pollen won't get eaten, and may get dropped off at the next flower the bee visits, with a good chance of successful pollination. Students sometime notice that Plant Biology is all about sex, now it should be clear why: Plant Sex is Everywhere....

23 June 2013: Plants in the News Can plants do math?

Plant Math No they can't. But that didn't stop BBC News from posting Plants 'do maths' on their world news website. They are reporting on recent research out of UK's John Innes Centre on regulation of starch breakdown overnight based on the quantity of starch produced the day before due to photosynthesis. The scientists claimed that plants had to be able to math: "This is pre-GCSE maths they're doing, but they're doing maths." At least BBC had the sense to quote a disinterested scientist who cautioned: "This is not evidence for plant intelligence. It simply suggests that plants have a mechanism designed to automatically regulate how fast they burn carbohydrates at night. Plants don't do maths voluntarily and with a purpose in mind like we do." It's worthwhile being careful about what you claim. Biochemical feedback loops are the norm in any organism. To claim it is "pre-GCSE math" is mis-leading.

Funaria Moss 28 May 2013: Plants in the News A Little Ice Age Moss Resurrects

Catherine La Farge and her colleagues at University of Alberta study glacier retreat in the far North. They noticed dead mosses --buried for 400 years-- looked green. It turns out they were alive, surviving under the glacer since the Little Ice Age in the 1600's. The news media has been having a real outing with this one. Someone commented that mosses could be first colonizers on Mars and it went viral after that. Highlighted in BBC News and elsewhere, the sciency article was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Chemotroph_Phylogeny 15 March 2013: Plants in the News A microbial Crypto-Ecosystem

We don't spend a lot of time on bacterial diversity, but microbes are where life began, and it turns out they are intimately associated with upwelling magma in the oceans. It turns out that they live on sulfur provided from the molten core of the earth. Sulfur-utilizing bacteria have been known for a while, but scientists are only now beginning to understand how vast this Crypto-Ecosystem is. Highlighted in Wired Magazine, the sciency article was just published in Science magazine. These are chemotrophs, quite different from the decomposer bacteria that proliferate in oceans sediments, even as deep as 11 km, also highlighted (18 March) in BBC News, with the science described in Nature Geoscience.

Soybean Seed 21 February 2013: Plants in the News Patented Inventions that Self-Replicate: Roundup Ready Soybean

We don't begin to explore the human economics of plants until the end of the course. But there is a US Supreme Court case --Bowman v. Monsanto Co.-- that raises fascinating questions of the ownership of self-replicating patent inventions. Roundup Ready soybean was first introduced in the mid 1990's and now accounts for 90% of the soybean crop in the US (it's also grown in Canada, but only in warmer regions like southern Ontario). The soybeans contain a gene conferring resistance to the herbicide Roundup, which makes weed control much easier and cheaper, hence its wide adoption by farmers. Bowman bought soybeans from a grain elevator and planted them, then sprayed with Roundup (selecting only the Roundup Ready variety); Monsanto (owner of the patent) sued. So far, the courts have ruled in favour of Monsanto; Oral arguments [pdf] happened last week at the US Supreme Court. The question is whether a patent becomes exhausted in a self-replicating invention. The legal aspects are complex, but the implications for commercial development of genetically modified organisms could be dramatic. An article in the New York Times gives a good sense of the background and the implications. Update: The Supreme Court ruled for Monsanto.

Poisonous Heart15 February 2013: Plants in the News Poisonous Chocolate?

The day after Valentine's Day, Wired Magazine runs an article about The Poisonous Chemistry of Chocolate. It's a fascinating read about the toxicology of theobromine, including LD50. The risk is greatest for dogs that eat chocolate, but it will certainly encourage you not to overindulge!

Rabies Virus 7 January 2013: Plants in the News Think you have Rabies? Genetically engineered plants could provide a cure.

EurekaAlert posted a hot off the presses article on the recent development of an antibody against rabies, produced in genetically engineered tobacco plants. Producing vaccines in plants is not a new idea. This example is slightly different. The antibody would act as a prophylaxis: Given if someone is bitten by an animal suspected to be rabid, to prevent the disease progression if indeed the animal was rabid. It could very well be helpful for those infected with Rabies by providing a relativly low cost treatment. The sciency article was published in The FASEB Journal.

Maple Leaves19 January 2013: Plants in the News Will the Canadian government be hiring a taxonomist?

They might have to, after botanists pointed out the new 20 dollar bill features an invasive species (Norway Maple) rather than the Sugar Maple. Here's a report from BBC News. You can check the differences between the two species by clicking on the leaf image. Norway maple (Acer platanoides) has bristle tips and exudes a milky sap when cut. It's an example of a European species introduced as an ornamantal, now naturalized.

Sarracenia pitcher plant 7 January 2013: Plants in the News Aquaplaning to get a meal.

One way insectivorous plants trap insects is aquaplaning --creating a surface so smooth the insect slips down into the waiting pool of digestive juices. Huffington Post describes recent scientific findings, including a video. Beside Plant Biologists who enjoy the Revenge of the Plants, bioengineers study how plants do it closely. It's part of biomimetics and the development of self-cleaning surfaces. The 'sciency' report was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences).

Square Watermelon28 November 2012: Plants in the News Genomic Watermelon.

An international consortia recently sequenced the genome of a watermelon. Watermelons were initially domesticated by humans 4000 years ago in Egypt. The sequence may be used to develop new varieties: tastier, more beautiful and even healthier. Not surprisingly, watermelons have about the same number of genes as the human genome. Here's one news article (from Nanowerk). The science was published in Nature Genetics. The sequence is publicly available at the Cucurbit Genomics Database.

PhotoArt by Catherine Nelson 1 November 2012: Plants in the News Micro Worlds by Catherine Nelson.

Wired Magazine highlights the PhotoArt of Catherine Nelson, who uses state-of-the-art photocomposite techniques to build Micro-Planets. At least for me, they are a remarkable reminder that --as human populations increase-- our world is becoming smaller. Her landscapes are filled with botanical life. Here is coverage by Wired and Catherine Nelson's Website.

Gaga Fern27 October 2012: Plants in the News Going Gaga over Ferns.

The New York Times covered the recent discovery of a new fern genus: Germinated This Way: The Ferns Named Gaga. The new genus does have a unique DNA repetitive sequence (GAGA), but the truth is the taxonomists who did the research just like Lady Gaga, and enshrined her in science with her own genus. Here is a link to Lady Gaga dressed as a fern [youtube link].

Potato Diversity30 March 2012: Plants in the News The economics and politics of crop plants.

We've already explored the economic role of crop plants in human affairs --The Potato Famine of the 1800's... caused by the Oomycete Phytopthera that resulted in large-scale human migrations. Often considered the food of the poor, the potato has also become a symbol of overcoming economic challenges in Modern Times. The business media company Bloomberg published a report on how Greeks Embrace Potato as Symbol of Struggle to Survive Austerity. The news article includes commentary by York Professor Sakis Gekas.

8 March 2012: Plants in the News Phenology and Global Warming.

Tree flowers Phenology is the study of plant (and animal) life cycle events, of which the most dramatic is flowering in the spring. It is certainly in the news (mostly local):
Many amateur scientists participate in recording bud break and flowering to create phenological maps. Are the maps changing? Maybe. With global warming, flowering will tend to occur earlier, though it is hard to separate year-by-year variation from long-term trends. The photo shows flower bud break of two native early flowerers in the Boyer Woodlot: Maple and Populus, taken yesterday (7 March 2012). The maples broke bud much later in 2009 (16 march [jpg]). The flowers should mature within two weeks, weather permitting.
More Tree Flowers Update (13 March 2012): Even earlier... The female and male flowers of the silver maple have reached maturity a week or after bud break. This is much earlier than last year (2011) when they reach maturity 3 April [png]. Populus flowers are lagging.
Populus catkins Update (20 March 2012): And now the Populus flowers have reached maturity. Erythronium and Trillium haven't broken out of the soil in the Boyer Woodlot yet --and may not until the danger of a late cold snap is over. Since they are insect pollinated (rather than wind-pollinated like maples and poplar), they need to time flowering in conjunction with bee emergence.

Wood Lilies Update (25 March 2012): Now Erythronium is beginning to emerge (although it will be a few weeks before the flowers unfold). Still no Trilliums ... see Phytofile

Emerging Trillium Update (4 April 2012): The first Trilliums have appeared!

[polar bear crossing3 March 2012: Plants in the News 'Doomsday Vault' holds seeds that could save the world.

Seed vault The Svalbard Global Seed Vault --located north of Norway's mainland-- was completed four years ago. No one stays there, and it is only opened a few days every year to store more seeds. The seeds are naturally kept at a cold temperature to ensure longevity. MSNBC provides an update. Here is the Seed Vault website.

19 February 2012: Plants in the News Getting friendly with bees.

Pollinating bee Researchers at the University of Sussex (hopefully including undergraduate students!) spent a few months in the garden, figuring out which flowering plant species attract the most bee pollinators. BBC Nature provides a slide show of their results. The underlying research comes from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects.

15 February 2012: Plants in the News Solving Darwin's Abominable Mystery

Lily Darwin's Abominable Mystery still perplexes today, with new hypotheses every once in a while. The effect of gene duplication of MADS-box genes --a family of transcription factors that are required for flower development-- is a recent proposed culprit, as described in a press release from Science Daily. William Friedman describes the history of Darwin's mystery in the American Journal of Botany. The research on gene duplications is described in Genome Research, although it's not an easy read.

7 February 2012: Plants in the News Humble Moss Cooled the Earth

Moss The Invasion of Land was a big deal in more ways than one. Recent research points to the roles of mosses, the first land invaders, in lowering carbon dioxide levels and triggering mini-ice ages. The carbon dioxide 'drawdown' was caused in part by biogenic weathering of rocks to soil. BBC News highlights the recent research. The underlying science was published in Nature Geoscience.

22 January 2012: Plants in the News Mushroom-based Packaging

Mycelium The idea of growing packaging material from a mix of agricultural waste with a fungus to create a strong and light-weight mycelium-based structure has been in the news quite often. Last April, Dell announced it would use the novel packaging material for shipping computers, as described in Wired Magazine. Eben Bayer describes the innovative approach in a TED Talk. The new packaging is biodegradable, and would replace a lot of styrofoam.

18 January 2012: Plants in the News Farming Seaweed for Biofuels

Seaweed The Guardian (a newspaper in the UK) headlined the use of seaweed as a biofuel. The key is the engineering of a genetically modified prokaryote that can ferment alginate to ethanol. The scientific research behind the headlines was published in Science.

18 January 2012: Plants in the News Dinophyta's Toxic Hunting Habits

Dinoflagellate Recent research on Hunting with Toxins has identified the reason why the Dinophyta Karlodinium veneficum produces karlotoxins. It is to stun fish before feeding on them. The research was highlighted in a press release from Johns Hopkins University. The details of the research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

5 January 2012: Plants in the News Biomimicking Photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis The recent research on artificial photosynthesis is growing to an ever-increasing intensity. In a paper published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Lubner and colleagues report on an artificial nanoconstruct that mimicks natural light-driven electron transport at a very high efficiency. The product of the reaction is hydrogen fuel.

7 December 2011: Plants in the News More Evidence Found for Quantum Physics in Photosynthesis

FMO protein We don't spend much lecture time on Photosynthesis (so little time, so much to explore) but it is extraordinarily important globally and intensely researched. It turns out that photosynthetic organisms discovered Quantum Physics 3500 million years ago! Quantum tunneling is used to transfer excitons duirng light harvesting, the first part of the light reactions. Wired Magazine has the latest development.

30 November 2011: Plants in the News Farming algae

Montage of diverse algae There is a growing interest in farming algae to produce various products, including biofuels. Most algal farms are at the trial stages, as industry works to scale up the farms to commercially viable sizes. The state of the nascent industry was worthy of note on the BBC News website's Business Section.

4 October 2011: Plants in the News The New York Times takes notice of slime

Life cycle of Dictyostelium The slime molds get into the news a lot: They are a (relatively) simple model system for studies of multicellularity and even the evolution of transport systems. The New York Times decided this was news fit to print, presenting an overview of the current state of knowledge scientists have learned from the cellular and acellular slime molds.

6 September 2011: Plants in the News Plants build a perch for birds

Bird pollination The explosive evolution of pollination mechanisms is really all about the co-evolution of plants and animals. A Toronto botanist and colleagues discovered a remarkable variation on this theme: The South African plant Babiana ringens has bright red flowers near the ground, and 'grows' a perch above the flower to encourage birds to land and pollinate the flower. Here is the news blurb from BBC. The research was published in the Annals of Botany.

5 April 2011: Plants in the News Plant lives inside animal: algae invade amphibian cells

Symbiosis takes a multitude of different forms (of which the lichens have always struck me as the most remarkable). This example is an Alga/Vertebrate endosymbiosis: The alga lives inside the cells of the embryo, and may be inherited from the parents. Here is a news blurb from BBC. It was discovered by researchers at Dalhousie in Halifax. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.


23 March 2015 (miscellanea): Tree buds Beech buds in the understory

With the cold spring, beech buds remain dormant.
Populus buds emerging in 2015
On southern exposures, Populus flower buds are starting to emerge

23 April 2014 (miscellanea): Erythronium emerges! Trout lily emerging in 2014

Two weeks after the silver maples bloom, trout lily (Erythronium) leaves start to emerge.
Larch leaves emerging in 2014
27 April 2014 Update: And four days later, larch leaves start to emerge

10 April 2014 (miscellanea): Maple flowers! maple flowers in full bloom in 2014

Just a few days of warm weather is all it took. Silver maple flowers are starting to fully bloom.

8 April 2014 (miscellanea): Maple flowers break bud! maple flowers breaking bud in 2014

Spring is very late this year compared to the past few years. Silver maple flowers are only starting to break bud, when they are usually in full flower by now.

26 February 2014 (miscellanea): Mosquito pollinators Mosquito pollinating an orchid

Even mosquitoes are pollinators, and are known to pollinate small northern orchids. The US Forest Service has a site devoted to pollinators of the month that describes mosquito pollinators, amongst many others.

17 February 2014 (miscellanea): C-Fern Babies! Six week old fern babies

The Ceratopteris C-Ferns that we fertilized in December are now well established in the greenhouse. These will be used for science outreach: A Bring a Fern Baby Home for Mother's Day event for Science Rendezvous in May.

15 April 2013 (miscellanea): Erythronium emerges! Erythronium poking up through a leaf

Finally, Erythronium americanum emerges in the Boyer Woodlot! It's late this year (by about 2 weeks) because of the cold spring we have had so far. The flowers will blossom in about 2-3 weeks.

6 August 2012 (miscellanea): Greenhouse Blossoms

Aloe flower Sometimes during the summer months, we get special blossoms in the greenhouse collection. Here is an Aloe, forming a colourful spike inflorescence during the hot days of August. Here is more about the greenhouse.

28 February 2012 (miscellanea): Spectral Sensivity of Biological Vision

vision spectra In his guest lecture (Bees Rule!), Professor Zayed noted the differences in spectral sensitivity of bees and how that affects floral attraction (and the ability of spiders lurking in the blossom to entrap bees). The diagram (click on it for a larger version) compares spectral sensitivity of a variety of insects and other animals (including humans). Insects are notable for their UV sensitivity. The diagram comes from a book by David Lee entitled Nature's Palette. The science of plant color, a fascinating read in its own right.

20 april 2011 (miscellanea): Trillium grandiflorum flowers are starting to emerge (Spring Is Here!).

Trilliums on the forest floor Trilliums are a favorite spring flower. These are the first I've seen in Boyer Woodlot. Others will emerge in the next few weeks. They are a bit later than last year, due to the relatively cold spring.

Trillium pollinator 7 July 2011 Update: On 5 May, we captured a photo of a bee pollinating a Trillium flower, that Brock Harpur and Professor Amro Zayed identified as Halictus, a sweat bee. You can see Halictus and other bees in action on Amro's Bee Gallery website.

20 april 2011 (miscellanea): Populus catkins starting to set seed (Spring Is Here!).

Poplar catkin Poplar tree flowers are nowhere near as showy as Trilliums, but they are much faster: Already beginning to set seed before Trillium flowers emerge. Populus flowers are one of the first harbingers of spring. Taken at the western edge of Boyer Woodlot.

3 april 2011 (miscellanea): Acer saccharinum flowers have blossomed (Is Spring Officially Here?).

Maple flowers Silver maples have unisexual flowers. The females and males may occur on the same tree (monoecious) or on separate trees (dioecious).

18 march 2011 (miscellanea): Here is a link to a short (and reasonably 'readable') mini-review of self-incompatibility responses in plants.

The mini-review should aid understanding of the general division between gametophytic and sporophytic incompatibility, but be warned that recent research has revealed even greater complexities on the mechanisms underlying incompatibility responses in pollination.

16 february 2011 (miscellanea): As promised in lecture, here is a picture of a Drosera spp. (sundew).

Sundew plant Having captured an insect, the leaf is bending inwards to digest it. The photograph was taken by Noah Elhardt, who provides other beautiful examples in the Wikipedia Commons.
Carnivory is not so uncommon in plants. One example that is being highlighted in the popular science press is Ultricularia spp., which trap crustaceans underwater. Here is a link to the paper and to some cool time lapse movies.

13 february 2011 (miscellanea): Jessica Budke's Moss Plants and More blogspot highlighted a Callifornia Academy of Sciences video featuring the bryologist Jim Shevock. He talks about the remarkable ability of mosses to survive dessication. It shouldn't be a surprise to you to discover that sex is a big deal for a moss (or, more scientifically, the requirement for water).

11 february 2011 (miscellanea): The scientific evidence for the invasion of land by plants depends upon the fossil record. With each new discovery the date of the invasion gets pushed back.

The most 'recent' discovery is of cryptospores of liverworts, dated 470 million years ago

1 february 2011 (miscellanea): Fungal growth is even more dramatic when viewed time lapse.

fungal growth Here is a movie of Neurospora crassa wildtype, showing growth at the colony edge, and the development of the ramifying mycelial network behind the colony edge (click on the image for the movie [.mov 5.5 MB]).

21 january 2011 (miscellanea): Diatom motility is a fascinating research topic, an example of how ameboidal movement can be harnessed by a cell encased in glass (well, silica).

diatom glider After discovering this surprising phenomenon when assessing soil samples for Health and Safety, I collected some soil from a drainage seep on campus, and made a movie of a diatom glider (click on the image for the movie [.mov 2.8 MB].

10 january 2011 (miscellanea): Bacterial motility is a fascinating aspect of the diversity of life, and an example of a nanomolecular motor that continues to be intensively studied.

Flagellar man One 'original' explanation for bacterial motility proposed (in fun!) by the Nobel Laureate EM Purcell was a flagellar man turning a crank inside the bacteria (Click on the photo for a version of his original drawing). Of course, things are more complicated, involving a stator and rotor system quite similar to an electrical motor

03 january 2011 (miscellanea): Lynn Margulis will speak at York University (31 January).

Margulis lecture poster Lynn Margulis is famous for developing the revolutionary concept of endosymbiosis to explain the appearence of eucaryotic cells from bacterial progenitors (Symbiosis in Cell Evolution). Acceptance of her novel theory more than 30 years ago was by no means without controversies! It's exciting to have her speak here at York University. Click on the photo for more information
Update: Lynn Margulis gave a fascinating talk. She started with a discussion of the Gaia Hypothesis developed by James Lovelock. The Gaia Hypothesis emphasizes the role of the biota in regulating environmental conditions on earth. Terra-forming by photosynthetic organisms that elevated oxygen to unprecendented levels is only part of the hypothesis in toto. Then, she talked about new developments in the endosymbiosis theory: Googling endosymbiogenesis will give you a flavour.
Update: Lynn Margulis passed away 22 November 2011 at the age of 73. She was a highly respected biologist who opened new vistas of biological discovery with her endosymbiotic theory [NYT obituary].

01 january 2011 (miscellanea): In the first lectures, we will be exploring the marvel of photosynthesis.

The great oxygenation event John McPhee, in a book entitled Annals of a Former World describes the remarkable impact of photosynthesis in Geological Time: An explosive increase in atmospheric oxygen that oxidized iron to insoluble ferrics 2400 million years ago, now mined and surrounding us in the form of cars, trains and other iron artefacts of the Industrial Age.

quantum biology But photosynthesis is not just about the very old. Scientists in Toronto recently discovered that photons in the light harvesting apparatus are entangled. That is, the excited states caused by light absorption in two separate locations in the light harvesting apparatus are not separable, a deep consequence of Quantum Physics.


2015 Archives | 2014 Archives | 2013 Archives | 2012 Archives |

2015 Archives

5 May 2015: Thank you for making this such an enjoyable course! I hope that you enjoy the emerging spring all around us!

red trillium (Trillium erectum) sugar maple seedling 5 May 2015: Finally, the trilliums are in full bloom, including a relatively rare red trillium! But it is not just the flowers and emerging leaves, seedlings of sugar maple are sprouting up at the edges --and the interior-- of the woodlot.

red maple flowers (female) emerging leaves 25 April 2015: With warming weather, flowering and leaf emergence are happening quickly. Here's a snapshot of activity in Boyer woodlot. Red maple flowers (female) are in full bloom. And, leaves of a variety of understory woody plants and trees are emerging, to take advantage of sunlight before they get shaded by the canopy trees.

Emerging Trillium flower 19 April 2015: Trillium flowers are just emerging!

Emerging trout lily Emerging Trillium 16 April 2015: Trout lilies are now emerging (many from moss beds with or without sporophytes). Trilliums are emerging too! Both should flower soon (within a week?).

15 July 2014: I have been asked by the University to remind students of the University Senate Policy regarding Academic Honesty: Both the University Policy and additional resources for students.

20 April 2015: Final Exam (Monday 27 April from 7:00 PM in CLH A) Update:

The final exam is finished. There are 87 questions. About 50% come from material covered in the first and second term tests. Besides keying algae, conifers and pollen, lab-related questions include some diagrams, and 5 questions that would normally be on the second lab quiz (such as pollen morphology and tissue staining).
Please be reminded that there are two major procedural differences between the term tests and the final exam:
  • You will need to have your session/photo ID available.
  • Both the final exam and the scantron sheet must be handed in when you are finished.
Past final exams should give you a realistic idea of coverage. I hope you all do well!

17 April 2015: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on shoot biology of angiosperms (and coffee) [pdf].

17 April 2015: Dear Plant Biologists: The final exam will be held Monday 27 April from 7:00 PM in CLH A.

Please note that there are two major differences between the term tests and the final exam:
  • You will need to have your session/photo ID available.
  • Both the final exam and the scantron sheet must be handed in when you are finished.
The final exam will have about 75-80 questions. About 40-50% will come from material covered in the first and second term tests. Past final exams should give you a realistic idea of coverage. There will be more material from the lab component than is usual, including algae, conifer and pollen keying, as well as questions on pollen morphology and tissue staining. When the exam is finalized, I will provide you with more detailed information.

13 April 2015: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on root biology of angiosperms [pdf].

Maple flowers: female and male 12 April 2015: Here are some maple flowers (female and male). These photos were taken south of Calumet College and north of Bethune College today.

Beech and maple tree buds breaking dormancy 11 April 2015: Beech saplings in the understory are biding their time before breaking dormancy. But on southern exposures, some maples are getting ready to flower. These photos were taken in Boyer Woodlot today.

7 April 2015: Lab Material Review

Because some of the material that would usually be covered by the second lab quiz is going to be covered in the final exam, pertinent lab material (Bryophytes, Seedless vascular plants, Gymnosperms, and Pollen identification) will be available for review the afternoons of 15-17 April in Room 118 Lumbers. The lab technician Debbie Freele can let you in, her office/lab is Room 116 Lumbers (just across from the Plant Biology Lab room).

6 April 2015: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on seed biology of angiosperms [pdf].

20 March 2015: If you were unable to cross the picket line, remediation related material (gists and lecture notes) is available at

Moss sporophytes 2 April 2015: I guess most plants want to make sure it is going to stay warm before they break dormancy, but the mosses are making sporophytes like crazy. Mosses are tough. These photos were taken in Boyer Woodlot today.

1 April 2015: The final exam date and time have been set: Monday 27 April at 19:00.

1 April 2015: Dear Plant Biologists: As a consequence of the CUPE 3903 ratification, the Plant Biology Labs will resume today (Wednesday 1 April). The schedule and markings schemes have been modified to account for the limited time we have available for remediation.

The revised schedule provides two labs:
  1. Pollen I
  2. Angiosperm I and Fruit and Vegetable (You must bring both a plant in flower and a fruit or vegetable for this lab)
Most lab sections will complete the week of 6-10 April (the Tuesday lab will complete the week of 13-17 April due to the timing of lab resumption).
The revised marking scheme replaces a 4% write-up on pollen with a drawing. The second lab quiz is cancelled. The lab percentage mark will still be 40% of your course mark.
I look forward to seeing you in lab! Best regards, Roger

31 March 2015: Per official channels (York and CUPE 3903), the settlement has been ratified. Labs will resume Wednesday 1 April.

30 March 2015: Per official channels (York and CUPE 3903), a tentative settlement has been reached subject to ratification vote. The impact on Plant Biology depends on the timing and results of ratification. If labs can resume Tuesday afternoon, they will The ratification vote will be held Tuesday afternoon. If the settlement is ratified, then labs should be able to resume Wednesday afternoon.

23 March 2015: In the absence of a settlement, we can assume labs will not run this week. If labs re-commence next week (30 March -- 3 April), lab exercises will be reduced from five to three. A quiz --if held-- would occur the second lab exercise session. A tentative schedule revision [png] gives an example of how this could work. Everything depends upon if and when a settlement is reached.

20 March 2015: If you are unable to cross the picket line, remediation related material (gists and lecture notes) is available at

18 March 2015: Simon Hiscock provides a short review of incompatibility mechanisms in flowering plants that you may find helpful --Pollen recognition during the self-incompatibility response in plants.

18 March 2015:
It is official: The last day of classes is Friday 17 April 2015. Final exams will run from Sunday 19 April through Sunday 3 May Tuesday 28 April.

16 March 2015:
Dear Plant Biologists: I've excerpted the latest University Executive Committee communication below (it is available at the Secretariat website). Relevant to Plant Biology, our lectures will resume Wednesday 18 March, but labs will not resume at this time. The term will be extended:

"...Senate Executive Committee determined that classes in the following Faculties will resume on Tuesday, March 17: [...] Faculty of Science.
[...] Please bear in mind that some courses will not resume - notably those that are directed by CUPE 3903 Unit 1 members who remain on strike. Tutorials and labs associated with these and other courses may not be active. Some assignments may not be graded until after the disruption.
"The disruption of academic activities that began on March 3 has now reached its fourteenth day. A disruption of two full weeks means that adjustments to class schedules and normal academic regulations will be necessary. It has already been confirmed that the last day to withdraw from courses without receiving a grade will be extended, with details to be announced. Senate Executive has authorized a reduction in the length of the Y and W terms of seven days. Additionally, the formal examination schedule will start later than originally planned. More information will be forthcoming."
UPDATE (17 March 2015 am): Questions/Answers
  • When will we receive an update on the remaining laboratory work? I am guessing this will take a week at the minimum. The issues include TAs strikebreaking (unlikely), all units reaching a settlement (possible).
  • Do I hand in the one that was due the week the strike began? Eventually yes, the due date remains unclear, normally due dates are delayed a week after class resumption.
  • Will some of the labs be eliminated? It depends on the 'unknown future', One scenario will be to truncate the 5 lab exercises into three sessions. That way, the material will get covered with minimal damage to academic integrity.
  • Will the class lectures be available on line for those who cannot cross the picket line? I'm exploring the possibility of scanning my lecture notes and making them available as pdf's.
I remain hopeful for a complete resolution of the strike. Best regards, Roger

13 March 2015:
Dear Plant Biologists: I've excerpted the latest University Executive Committee communication below (it is available at the Secretariat website). Relevant to Plant Biology, our lectures will not resume yet:

"...the Committee was able to identify a number of outstanding issues requiring resolution in order for classes to resume. A revised institutional framework for resumption of classes on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 will be brought back to the Committee at a meeting on Monday, March 16 so that it can conclude its deliberations. The Committee commits to announcing its decisions immediately following the meeting on Monday."
I remain hopeful for a complete resolution of the strike, it would certainly make the resumption of courses straightforward. Best regards, Roger

11 March 2015:
Dear Plant Biologists: I've excerpted the latest University Executive Committee communication below (it is available at the Secretariat website). Relevant to Plant Biology, it is possible (not yet decided) that lectures would resume Monday 16 March:

"The Committee also agreed to meet on Thursday March 12, 2015 to review Faculty-specific remediation frameworks that would inform the Committee about resuming the balance of courses on Monday, March 16, 2015."
I await more information about lab exercises. I remain hopeful for a complete resolution of the strike. Best regards, Roger

6 March 2015: Drop Date extension.sunflower icon on strike

From the Undergraduate Biology Program Director: "The last day to drop a Winter 2015 term course without receiving a grade has been extended. The University will provide a firm date once academic activities resume, with sufficient notice to give students time to make informed decisions about dropping courses."

5 March 2015:
Dear Plant Biologists: I've excerpted the University Executive Committee communication below (it is available at the Secretariat website). Relevant to Plant Biology, a strike duration of less than 6 days is our problem (sessional dates will remain unchanged). Of greater duration, it will depend. For any lab write-ups that are due, it's always a good idea for students to complete them timely (procrastination is not a good idea), although 'official' deadlines will be extended. If a lab write-up is due during the strike, you do not need to hand it in until after the strike is over.

Communication from the Executive Committee of Senate (March 3, 2015): ....the Executive Committee of Senate has decided that, at the outset, all classes, examinations and related instructional activities are suspended.....
"In the case of a disruption that is six days long or shorter (defined as short disruptions by the Policy) normal academic regulations apply to all courses and related instructional activities (e.g. grading options or sessional dates). Unless a disruption goes beyond six days, individual faculty members are in the best situation to determine the extent to which their courses, seminars, graduate supervision, labs and the like have been affected and to determine what remedial action may be required. Only if the disruption goes beyond six days will it be necessary to implement more substantial remedial actions and to consider the adjustment of normal academic regulations.
When a disruption of any length occurs, students are entitled to immunity from penalty, to reasonable extensions of deadlines and to other remedies deemed necessary that are consistent with the principle of academic integrity. Such remedies do not alter academic standards. At the same time, they do not guarantee students the same learning experience they would have received in the absence of a disruption. Class schedules will not normally be reduced by more than the equivalent of one week."
I very much hope for a speedy resolution of the strike. Best regards, Roger

2 March 2015: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on reproductive biology of angiosperms [pdf].

23 February 2014: Second Term Test Update:

The test will be held during the normal lecture hour on Friday 27 Febrary in CLH B (surnames beginning with A-L) and LAS B (surnames beginning with M-Z). Coverage will include Chapters 14, 16, 17 and 18. Lectures and past term tests provide a very useful guide to question format and coverage.
Test Instructions: You will be given a scantron sheet and the test. Please be sure to fill in your name and student ID on the scantron sheet (And, please be sure to accurately mark your answers on the scantron sheet!). When you are finished, please hand in only the scantron sheet. You can use your copy of the test to self-grade after I post the answer key on the course website.

13 February 2015: Here are overheads used for the exploration of gymnosperms [pdf], the keynote slides on tree water pumps and some more detailed notes used for the lecture on The Height of a Tree.

12 February 2015: REMINDER! The Second Term Test is Friday 27 February.

The test will cover material in Chapters 14, 16, 17 and 18. Past tests provide you with a very practical (and helpful) guide of the coverage and nature of the questions.
Similar to the first term test, it will be held in two lecture halls --details to follow-- and you will need to hand in only the scantron sheet (you can use your test to self-grade after I mount the answer key).

6 February 2015: We will continue invading land (Seedless Vascular Plants --Chapter 17) on Monday.

Here are some of the overhead diagrams used for the lectures on The Invasion of Land

5 February 2015: We will be invading land (Bryophytes --Chapter 16) on Friday.

5 February 2015: Lab Exercise Lab Quiz

Don't forget that your first lab quiz is next week. The material will include Algae, Fungi, and Bryophytes.

30 January 2015: We will continue covering the Fungal Kingdom (Chapter 14) on Monday.

Here are some of the overhead diagrams used for the Fungal Lectures.

31 January 2015: Thinking about your future career?

The Career Centre has a Career Conversation event on the 5th of February. Biology Alumni will be amongst the panelists talking about their careers. The title of the event is Careers in Science: Alternatives to Professional Schools. One of the panelists, Amro Zayed, took Plants with me in 1997/1998... Now he is a York Biology Professor! The event may give you fresh ideas about what you can do with a Biology (or other science) degree.

27 January 2014: Term Test Update:

The test will be held during the normal lecture hour on Friday 30 January in CLH B (surnames beginning with A-L) and LAS B (surnames beginning with M-Z). Coverage will include Chapters 7, 12, 13, and 15. Lectures and past term tests provide a very useful guide to question format and coverage.
One of the questions does involve a calculation. The calculation is simple, but you may use a calculator if you want to.
Test Instructions: You will be given a scantron sheet and the test. Please be sure to fill in your name and student ID on the scantron sheet (And, please be sure to accurately mark your answers on the scantron sheet!). When you are finished, please hand in only the scantron sheet. You can use your copy of the test to self-grade after I post the answer key on the course website.

23 January 2015: Term Test Reminder: Next Friday.

The first term test (Friday 30 January) will cover the material in Chapters 7, 12, 13, and 15.
Students often ask me if they "are responsible for knowing things we haven't talked about in class that are in our readings (chapters 7, 12, 13, and 15)?". The answer is yes. The lecture gives a good idea about the things I think are important, and that should be a really helpful guide. But I do ask questions about details from the chapters. The past term tests should give you a practical idea about this. There are some things that I never lecture on or ask questions about --for example, bacterial plant pathogens or viruses-- and don't plan to in the upcoming test.
Because lecture and lab material are integrated, there will be questions based on material in the lab manual. In this year's draft test, there is a question that requires you to key and identify an algae. And sometimes, a diagram or lifecycle from the manual will be shown as part of a question.

21 January 2015: Here are some of the overheads and slides used for the Algal Protist Lectures [pdf].

16 January 2015: Here are some of the overheads used for the Systematics and Prokaryote Lectures [pdf]. We will begin the algal groups (Chapter 15) next week.

8 January 2015: Biology Field Courses.

Field course sign ups for the Ontario University Program in Field Biology are now underway, with course credit via BIOL 3001 3.0.  There are a wide variety of field courses to choose from.  Applications for the first round are due by 30 January 2015.  See Patty Lindsay ( in 247 Farquharson to apply for a field course. See the OUPFB website or the Department of Biology website ( for more information on available courses, costs, and how to apply.

5 January 2015: Here is a link to Wikipedia's take on The Great Oxygenation Event, caused by oxygenic photosynthesis.

UPDATE 8 January 2014: Here are versions of the keynote slides [pdf format] for the Photosynthesis Overview, Light Absorbing Pigments, and Light and Dark Reactions. Please note that no test questions are written from the slides. Past tests provide a practical guide to test coverage.
UPDATE 10 January 2014: Here are some of the overheads used for the lectures on photosynthesis [pdf format].
UPDATE 12 January 2014: Here are some of the keynote slides used for the lecture on bioengineering photosynthesis [pdf format].

9 January 2015: Lab 1 (Photosynthesis) next week (12-16 January) Reaction Centers

Please remember to bring your safety glasses. In case you haven't gotten the lab manual, here is the photosynthesis lab exercise [pdf].

1 January 2015:

To: SC/BIOL 2010 Plant Biologists
Dear Everyone: Welcome to SC/BIOL 2010 Plant Biology! The TAs, lab technician and I are looking forward to seeing you!
Please note that course announcements and useful resources for the course are available here at the public-facing course website (the Moodle website is used for lab marks and lab group announcements).
The textbook and lab manual are available in the Bookstore.
The textbook (Raven Biology of Plants, 8th edition) is central to both lectures and labs. The lab manual is required for labs. The textbook is available either hardcover or in a cheaper 'looseleaf' format (just the relevant chapter(s) can be brought to the labs, making life lighter).
Labs begin the week of 12-16 January: See Lab Information and Scheduling
Term Test dates have been set for Friday 30 January and Friday 27 February: More Information about Tests
With best wishes for the New Year, Roger Lew (Course Director for Plant Biology)

18 December 2014: Information is available about Biology Field Courses being offered in the new year.

28 November 2014: Textbook and lab manual are available in the Bookstore.

Textbook information The textbook (Raven Biology of Plants, 8th edition) is central to both lectures and labs. The lab manual is required for labs. The textbook is available either hardcover or in a cheaper 'looseleaf' format (not shown --just the relevant chapter(s) can be brought to the labs, making life lighter). Some students find the Photographic Atlas for Botany useful for the diversity and anatomy lab exercises.

2014 Archives

16 April 2014: male flowers of maple Thank you for making this such an enjoyable course! I hope that you enjoy the emerging spring all around us (such as maples flowering next to the Boyer Woodlot)! bisexual flowers of maple

25 April 2014: Science Rendezvous Outreach: Call for Volunteers.

Science Rendezvous is an international science outreach event that happens every second weekend in May (Saturday 10 May from 10:00 to 3:00). It's an opportunity for scientists to engage the general public about sciency things. This year at Main Street Markham, the organizers are planning to give the public the chance to Bring a Fern Baby Home for Mother's Day based on the fern lab exercise from the Plant Biology course. I am hoping that Plant Biology students are willing to volunteer! If so, please email Jessica Vaisica (, who will provide more details.
Update (13 May 2012): The Science Rendezvous event at Main Street Markham went very well! I think the public was amazed! There was a lot of interest in the Fern Babies for Mother's Day event. Chantal Blanchard from Zeiss did a wonderful job providing a microscopic view of swimming spermatazoids and streaming Chara. A lot of visitors took their plates home to grow baby ferns! Thanks to All the Volunteers!

4 April 2014: Economic Botany. Here is a link to overheads used for the lecture on coffee and peanut domestication [pdf].

1 April 2014: Economic Botany. Here is a link to overheads and notes used for the lecture on barley domestication [pdf].

1 April 2014: Course Evaluation Just a reminder that there is a departmental online evaluation available for the course (you will need to log in using Passport York).

31 March 2014: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on shoot biology of angiosperms [pdf].

30 March 2014: Lab Exercise Reminder

The fruit/vegetable dissection project (bonus marks) will be the week of 31 March -- 4 April. You will need to bring:
  • your choice of a fruit or vegetable.
  • a print-out of nutritional information for your selection.
  • you will need to dissect the fruit/vegetable using the same techniques you used to dissect your flowering plant and submit a drawing.
Do not eat your experiment! It's basic lab safety practice.

27 March 2014: Populus flower bud break Finally, some evidence of spring! Populus (trembling aspen) flowers starting to break bud... In 2012, they started to break bud about the 7th of March ([photographic evidence]). Last year, Acer saccharinum (silver maple) was flowering by now ([photographic evidence]), but no sign of bud break when I checked today.

26 March 2014: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on root biology of angiosperms [pdf].

22 March 2014: Lab Exercises Reminders

17 March 2014: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on seed biology of angiosperms [pdf].

10 March 2014: Lab Exercises Here is the rubric for the Pollen Tube Growth Lab report.

10 March 2014: Lab Exercises Reminders

7 March 2014: Here is a link to overheads used for the lectures on reproductive biology of angiosperms [pdf].

6 March 2014: Here is a link to a short review of incompatibility mechanisms in flowering plants by Simon Hiscock --Pollen recognition during the self-incompatibility response in plants-- that you may find helpful.

4 March 2014: Lab Exercises The second lab quiz will be the week of 24-28 March.

2 March 2014: Lab Exercises Fungal Sex and Pollen Identification

24 February 2014: Lab Exercises C-Fern Babies! Erissa's plate of sporophytes Erissa's sporophytes

You can take home the Ceratopteris C-Ferns that you fertilized before Reading Week. Growing instructions are provided in the teaching lab, and available in the Phyto-File section of the course website (describing how we use C-Ferns in Science Outreach). The C-Ferns are from Erissa in the Monday afternoon lab

21 February 2014: Here are overheads used for the exploration of gymnosperms [pdf].

14 February 2014: Here are the keynote slides on tree water pumps and some more detailed notes used for the lecture on The Height of a Tree.

12 February 2014: Here are the keynote slides on seedless vascular plants and some of the overhead diagrams used for the lectures on The Invasion of Land...

Crossing pattern of fungal mating types A and a 11 February 2014: Lab Exercises Fungal Sex

Here is an example of an artistic layout to create an example of crosses between the Neurospora crassa mating types A and a (Courtesy of your lab technician Agnes Szelag).

10 February 2014: Here are the keynote slides on bryophytes.

Here are links to the youtube videos I showed in class: walking through the bog and an 'instructive' video.
We have evolved into seedless vascular plants (Chapter 17).

6 February 2014: We have started to invade land (Bryophytes --Chapter 16).

3 February 2014: Here are the keynote slides on fungal growth and some of the overhead diagrams used for the Fungal Lectures.

24 January 2014: Here are the keynote slides for the Algal Protist Groups [pdf].

20 January 2014: Here are some of the overheads used for the Algal Protist Lectures [pdf].

17 January 2014: Here are some of the overheads used for the Systematics and Prokaryote Lectures [pdf]. We will begin the algal groups (Chapter 15) next week.

16 January 2014: Here are the keynote slides for the Bacterial Motility [pdf].

13 January 2014: Some of the lab exercises (including the photosynthesis lab) require statistical analysis, for which the lab coordinator Chris Luszczek has provided a Statistics Tutorial also available in pdf format.

10 January 2014: Here are the keynote slides for the Light and Dark Reactions [pdf].

8 January 2014: Here are the keynote slides for the Light Absorbing Pigments [pdf].

6 January 2014: Here are the keynote slides for the Photosynthesis Overview [pdf].

4 January 2014: Mazen Hamadeh (Bethune Academic Advisor) asked me to remind students that Bethune College offers Free Peer Tutoring and Study Sessions for multiple BIOL, CHEM, CSE, MATH, and PHYS courses. All to help students do better in their studies!

Bethune College offers a range of servces for students through the Student Ombuds Services (SOS):

2013 Archives

23 April 2013: Science Rendezvous Outreach: Call for Volunteers.

Science Rendezvous is an international science outreach event that happens every second weekend in May (Saturday 11 May from 10:00 to 3:00). It's an opportunity for scientists to engage the general public about sciency things. This year at Main Street Markham, the organizers are planning to give the public the chance to Bring a Fern Baby Home for Mother's Day based on the fern lab exercise from the Plant Biology course. I am hoping that Plant Biology students are willing to volunteer! If so, please email Margaret Hough (, who will provide more details.
Update (13 May 2012): The Science Rendezvous event at Main Street Markham was a tremendous success! For the Fern Babies for Mother's Day event, the public could add water to Petri plates with 3 week old gametophytes and observe the spermatazoids swim to the hermaphrodites. Plus, they could take the plates home with them to grow baby ferns! Thanks to All the Volunteers!

16 April 2013: adder's tongue Thank you for making this such an enjoyable course! I hope that you enjoy the emerging spring all around us (such as 'adder's tongue' just coming up in the Boyer Woodlot)!

26 April 2013 Update: Trillium flower And now, even the Trilliums are coming up!

8 April 2013: Here is a link to overheads used for the shoot emergence and flowering of angiosperms [pdf].

5 April 2013: Maple pollen!

Maple pollen on a microscope slide Silver maples (Acer saccharinum) are near their peak. Inderjit Dass generously isolated the pollen in the plants teaching lab to share with everyone.

3 April 2013: Here is a link to overheads used for the radicle emergence of angiosperms [pdf].

3 April 2011: The final exam will be held Thursday 11 April from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM in ACW 206.

I have been asked by some students for advice about study strategies for the final exam. In general, material from the first part of the course (on Diversity) is based on textbook (mainly Chapters 7, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18). Your lecture notes will certainly be helpful, as will the term tests (which are designed to prepare you for the diversity section of the final exam). Questions from your term tests are often used, but may be modified, so please read the questions carefully. For the last section of the course (on The Life of a Plant), the material covered in lecture ranges over many chapters in the textbook. For this section of the course, test questions are drawn from lecture material (and sometimes are analytical in nature, asking you to interpret novel data). What this means in terms of study strategies is that you should be familiar with the key chapters (19, 20 and 22). In addition, some lecture material is covered in later chapters in the textbook. For example, you can read the sections in the textbook on phytochrome (page numbers are provided in the index) and annotate your lecture notes as you deem appropriate. Similarly root emergence, gravitropism, etc., are all described in the textbook, most easily found using the index. These sections should reinforce the coverage in lecture. I hope this is helpful (and hope you do well on the final).

28 March 2013: Maples flower!

Maple flower Silver maples (Acer saccharinum) are one of the first flowerers in the spring, and later than usual because of the cold spring (they flowered about the 13th of March last year, although that was a warmer spring than usual). Maple flowers are a clear covenant for a spring soon to arrive.

25 March 2013: Here is a link to overheads used for the seed biology of angiosperms [pdf].

20 March 2013: For today's lecture on triggers to seed germination, here is a link to the original article Seasonal changes in the temperature requirements for germination of buried seeds of Aphanes arvensis L. (Roberts and Neilson [1982] New Phytologist 92:159-166) [pdf].

The data shown in class [pdf] was simplified compared to the data shown in the paper.

19 March 2013: Here is a link to overheads used for the reproductive biology of angiosperms [pdf].

5 March 2013: Here are the overheads used for the exploration of gymnosperms [pdf].

1 March 2013: Here are the overheads used for the exploration of evaporative pumps [pdf].

28 February 2013: We will begin to explore seed plants (Gymnosperms --Chapter 18) on Friday.

Here is a link to overheads used for the invasion of land [pdf].

18 February 2013: Walking on a bog.

The best video I could find is walking through the bog [youtube] from a northern bog in Minnesota (thus similar to the bogs that occur on the Canadian Shield --about 100 km north of Toronto). Here is a more 'instructive' video.

14 February 2013: We will begin to invade land (Bryophytes --Chapter 16) on Friday.

Here is a link to overheads used for the Fungal Lectures [pdf].

12 February 2013: We will finish our exploration of the decomposers (Fungi -- Chapter 14) on Wednesday, and may begin to invade land (Bryophytes --Chapter 16).

Test Addendum: Some students have been asking me about the posted test scores. To clarify, the posted scores include the adjustment.

7 February 2013 (Lab Exercises): Fern sporophytes Young growing ferns

In a few weeks, your successfully fertilized fern gametophytes will begin to develop the sporophyte (diploid) alternate generation. The photo shows an example of a more mature sporophyte (an unfurling frond and the whole plant), something you will have the opportunity to observe for yourself, if you decide to take your fern babies home after you complete the fern lab. A more complete documentation of sporophyte development is in the Miscellanea section of the course website.

4 February 2013: We will begin our exploration of the decomposers (Fungi -- Chapter 14) on Wednesday.

31 January 2013: Protista Lectures.

Here is a link to overheads and slides used for the Protista Lectures [pdf]

29 January 2013: Term Test Update: The test will be held during the normal lecture hour on Monday 4 February in ACW 005 (surnames beginning with A-K) and ACW 004 (surnames beginning with L-Z). Coverage will include Chapters 7, 12, 13, and 15. Lectures provide a good guide to coverage. One or two questions are specifically from lecture, one includes a diagram from your lab manual, the others are drawn from the textbook. Past tests do provide a guide to question format and coverage.

Update (1 February): One of the questions does involve a calculation. The calculation is simple, but you may use a calculator if you want.

27 January 2013: We will continue exploring the Protists (Chlorophyta and Heterotrophs) next week.

The first term test (4 February) will cover the material in Chapters 7, 12, 13, and 15.
Update (28 January 2013). I've been getting questions from students along the lines of "are we responsible for knowing things we haven't talked about in class that are in our readings (chapters 7, 12 ,13, and 15)?". The answer is yes. The lecture gives a good idea about the things I think are important, and that should be a really helpful guide. But I do ask questions about details from the chapters. The past term tests should give you a practical idea about this. You will notice --for example-- that I never ask questions about bacterial plant pathogens or viruses (and don't plan to in the upcoming test).

18 January 2013: Here is a link to overheads used for the Systematics and Prokaryote Lectures [pdf]. We will begin the algal groups (Chapter 15) next week.

14 January 2013: Wednesday, we will overview The Science of Biological Diversity. sexus quotation
Linneaus Philosophia Botanica

and introduce the bacteria.

9 January 2013: Lab 1 (Photosynthesis) next week (14-18 January) Reaction Centers

Please remember to bring your safety glasses. In case you haven't gotten the lab manual, here is the photosynthesis lab exercise [pdf].

2012 Archives

12 april 2012: Science Rendezvous Outreach: Call for Volunteers.

Science Rendezvous is an international science outreach event that happens every second weekend in May (Saturday 12 May from 10:00 to 3:00). It's an opportunity for scientists to engage the general public about sciency things. This year at Main Street Markham, the organizers are planning to give the public the chance to do the Sex in a Dish lab exercise from the Plant Biology course. I am hoping that Plant Biology students are willing to volunteer! If so, the attached [pdf] provides more details and contact information.

Update (15 May 2012): The Science Rendezvous event at Main Street Markham was a tremendous success! For the Sex in a Dish event, the public could add water to Petri plates with 3 week old gametophytes and observe the spermatazoids swim to the hermaphrodites. Plus, they could take the plates home with them to grow baby ferns! Thanks to All the Volunteers!

Wood Lilies 5 april 2012: Thank you all for making this an enjoyable course. Please do enjoy the unique Plantae Diversitas all around you during the rest of the year!

18 january 2012: Here are some links to movies of diatom gliders.