Some everyday foods contain toxins that could wreak bodily havoc under the wrong circumstances.
Fruits and vegetables are unquestionably essential to a healthful diet.
But there's another side to some of these plants that, thankfully, most people never see: the tiny amounts of toxins within them. The minute amounts of poison found in many seeds, leaves and roots are the result of the protracted arms race between plants and the animals that try to eat them. It's the reason why you've never a cashew (the shells might make you break out in a poison ivy-style rash) or eaten green potato fries (read on for details).
Eve Emshwiller's insight:
Useful for topic on plant defense, biochemical evolution and human uses (or avoidance). H/T @iramjohn
You don’t have to be superstitious to believe in the power of hoppin’ john on New Year’s Day. Katherine’s recipe is below, but first, she takes this good excuse to talk about the structure of beans, the magical fruit (really seeds).
Plants can hear, taste and feel, as Michael Pollan writes in his latest piece for The New Yorker. But is any of that evidence of intelligence? (Can Plants Think? 'll be on Science Friday tomorrow, last segment, talking about plant intelligence.
"We started simple. We sampled leaves and considered when they turn green. We reflected on the way a tree is similar to and different from a human body. We sampled the classroom. And then we swabbed the classroom for bacteria. The students chose where to swab. The teacher, Mrs. B., was swabbed (belly button, shoe, etc…), the floor too, as were a backpack, the soil outside, a flagpole outside, a flagpole inside (flagpoles seem to be a conspicuous feature of the elementary school day), the computer table, a lunch box and a trashcan. I was also swabbed. The students then generated hypotheses about where we might find the most kinds of bacteria. This bacterial work was not yet science; it was outreach—showing the students’ results that exemplify what we already know—but in this context we could still walk through the steps of science. We could generate hypotheses and consider them in light of what we found."
Eve Emshwiller's insight:
Very cool project in elementary school that has the kids doing real science!
Not far from Hawaii's beaches are some of the world's most unique plants. Meet one botanist trying to save them from extinction. …
The time is a few minutes before noon on the Pacific island of Kauai and Steve Perlman is ready to throw himself off a cliff. In a blue t-shirt and cargo pants, Perlman, a botanist, is preparing to lower himself on a rope into Kalalau Valley Rim, a steep piece of land with neither hiking paths nor access roads. The rim sits inside Na Pali Coast State Park, where tourists come to see the rocky hillsides carved away by the Pacific. Where they don’t come is to the rocky hillsides inland that are covered by plants and, more frequently, hungry goats.
Eve Emshwiller's insight:
Nice short video about the efforts of Steve Perlman to save native endemic Hawaiian plants from extinction.
"Despite the argument that political and economic issues had a great role to play in the Irish potato famine, there is no doubt that the loss of the potato crop due to late blight was the trigger that started it all.
Late blight was, and is, caused by the plant-pathogenic organism Phytophthora infestans which, unfortunately, many people describe as a 'fungus'."
Eve Emshwiller's insight:
Oomycetes are heterokonts, but are still being confused with fungi.
Potential risks of genetically modified (GM) crops must be identified before their commercialization, as happens with all new technologies. One of the major concerns is the proper risk assessment of adventitious presence of transgenic material in rice fields due to cross-pollination. Several studies have been conducted in order to quantify pollen-mediated gene flow from transgenic rice (Oryza sativa) to both conventional rice and red rice weed (O. sativa f. spontanea) under field conditions. Some of these studies reported GM pollen-donor rice transferring GM traits to red rice. However, gene flow also occurs in the opposite direction, in a phenomenon that we have called reverse gene flow, resulting in transgenic seeds that have incorporated the traits of wild red rice. We quantified reverse gene flow using material from two field trials. A molecular analysis based on amplified fragment length polymorphisms was carried out, being complemented with a phenotypic identification of red rice traits. In both field trials, the reverse gene flow detected was greater than the direct gene flow. The rate of direct gene flow varied according to the relative proportions of the donor (GM rice) and receptor (red rice) plants and was influenced by wind direction. The ecological impact of reverse gene flow is limited in comparison with that of direct gene flow because non-shattered and non-dormant seeds would be obtained in the first generation. Hybrid seed would remain in the spike and therefore most of it would be removed during harvesting. Nevertheless, this phenomenon must be considered in fields used for elite seed production and in developing countries where farmers often keep some seed for planting the following year. In these cases, there is a higher risk of GM red rice weed infestation increasing from year to year and therefore a proper monitoring plan needs to be established.
A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant – a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period – with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation.
The perfectly-preserved scene, in a plant now extinct, is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous when flowering plants were changing the face of the Earth forever, adding beauty, biodiversity and food. It appears identical to the reproduction process that “angiosperms,” or flowering plants still use today.
The economic and societal importance of plants is hard to underestimate; in order to meet the global challenges facing us today, we need to invest time and money into this sector, writes Eoin Lettice.
IF WE WERE to close our eyes and imagine a world without animals, what would it look like? It’s not that difficult to imagine a planet devoid of humans or other animals.
Now try and imagine a world without plants. It’s almost impossible to conceive. Although we sometimes take them for granted, plants have made possible and shaped life on Earth while making this a truly green planet.
Striking evidence that plants warn each other of environmental dangers is reviving a once ridiculed field. ...The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection. "
The ability to detect experimental effects is undermined in studies that lack power.
Statistical testing provides a paradigm for deciding whether the data are or are not typical of the values expected when the hypothesis is true. Because our objective is usually to detect a departure from the null hypothesis, it is useful to define an alternative hypothesis that expresses the distribution of observations when the null is false. The difference between the distributions captures the experimental effect, and the probability of detecting the effect is the statistical power.
My favorite slide from the Phys/Med nobel lectures was Randy Schekman showing off his 9th grade science project. Remember this image when you are next asked to mentor a young person or volunteer your time at a science fair! Most won't become Nobel Laureates, but any of them might, with a little encouragement.