When you look out on a golden-yellow field of oilseed rape you might not think you're seeing a battleground, but crops including oilseed rape, wheat, potato and tomato are engaged in a constant fight with pests and disease, trying to stay one step ahead.
As the world's human population looks set to increase to nine billion people by 2050, keeping plants healthy and productive is going to be essential to making sure there is enough food to go round.Aphids damage crops by feeding on them and transmitting plant diseases. "Crop pests are emerging earlier due to global warming and new variants are arriving from other countries, bringing new plant viruses", said Dr Saskia Hogenhout from the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, an institute strategically funded by the BBSRC.
Among these pests whitefly and green peach aphids cause hundreds of millions of pounds of damage and loss to crops through transmitting viruses and feeding. Both species are notorious for demonstrating the ability to rapidly develop resistance to conventional pesticides, and both attack a wide variety of crops, including cabbage, lettuce, beet, oilseed rape and potato. In UK cereal crops aphids alone can cause yield losses of over 40 per cent, and insect pests are responsible for an estimated 15 per cent of all crop losses globally. Dr Hogenhout said: "The aphids and whitefly themselves are problematic but they also transmit more than half of all plant viruses. They're called the mosquitoes of plants because like mosquitoes they feed on the vascular system and they transmit quite a number of viruses."
"PHYA and high-irradiance responses have been considered unique to seed plants because the divergence of seed plants and cryptogams (e.g., ferns and mosses) preceded the evolution of PHYA. Seed plant phytochromes translocate into the nucleus and regulate gene expression. By contrast, there has been little evidence of a nuclear localization and function of cryptogam phytochromes. Here, we identified responses to FR light in cryptogams, which are highly reminiscent of PHYA signaling in seed plants.
Each year the Biochemical Society looks for talented science writers to take part in our annual Science Communication Competition. The competition is open to all undergraduates and postgraduates, including non-members.
Questionnaire suggests researchers not as safe as they feel.
Mary Williams's insight:
One of the most important, and overlooked, things that undergraduates and young graduate students have to learn is how to evaluate lab safety risks. It's particularly important that they're aware of the rules about working alone in the lab, which is a bad idea at best.... If you're mentoring a younger scientist, try to demonstrate your best practices!
It's revised with updated references and new introductory-level concepts. Walking students through a developmental program such as the development of a leaf from a primordium is a good way to help students understand how models are derived from experimental data. It also helps them see how transcription factors, hormones and small RNAs are integrated into 3D regulatory networks.
The types of plants being protected, by whom and by what form of varietal right, has changed markedly since the United States first enabled intellectual property protection for plant varieties in 1930.
Intellectual property (IP) protection for plant varieties seems perpetually embroiled in policy controversy and professional debate. The United States, a hub of plant innovation with multiple types of plant IP protections, has long been at the center of the storm. As early as 1869, the objections of a writer in the Rural New Yorker captured the essential argument against such protections that persists to this day...
When plant varietal rights were first offered in the United States in 1930, the agriculture sector, including horticulture, produced $10.2 billion in output; there were 6.5 million farms in the United States, averaging 151 acres per farm. Almost 80 years later, the US agricultural economy has grown 24-fold, yet the farm sector has massively consolidated, down to 2.1 million farms, averaging 446 acres in size. Moreover, 70% of the agricultural production (by value) came from just 7% of all commercial farms in the United States in 2003.
... substantial amounts of seed are now purchased annually rather than saved and reused. Accordingly, seed and other input markets servicing US agriculture have evolved and adjusted. The scientific basis for manipulating cultivated crops has also changed radically over the past 80 years, again changing the incentives and structures of the crop-breeding, multiplication and marketing sectors.
Along with these broader market changes have come changes in US markets for IP in general, and for IP pertaining to plant varieties in particular. Here we describe the changing legislative and legal structures that directly affect plant varieties, as well as the marked changes in the crops being protected, the types of varietal rights sought and the applicants seeking them since 1930...
"The determination of structures of small RNA-bound entire eukaryotic AGO proteins is an achievement of key importance to the understanding of RNA silencing. It offers precise physicochemical explanations to many biochemical and genetic observations of AGO function, as shown here with a systematic analysis of functional consequences of ago mutations recovered in Arabidopsis genetic screens."
Beverly Glover's group is involved in some of the most interesting, interdisciplinary work, and here's another. Her work examines the developmental and genetic foundations for flower characteristics and how they interact with pollinators - it's appealing and the questions are accessible to undergraduates.
"The optical properties of plant surfaces are strongly determined by the shape of epidermal cells and by the patterning of the cuticle on top of the cells. Combinations of particular cell shapes with particular nanoscale structures can generate a wide range of optical effects. Perhaps most notably, the development of ordered ridges of cuticle on top of flat petal cells can produce diffraction-grating-like structures."
How personal-health journalism ignores the fundamental pitfalls baked into all scientific research and serves up a daily diet of unreliable information
Mary Williams's insight:
This article, from the Columbia Journalism Review, should be included in any reading list about science and the media. It's from the perpsective of a journalist, so argues that the flaws in science reporting rest not solely with the journalists but also have foundations in the way science is conducted and presented. Great discussion fodder!
In case you missed it the first time around, David Jones has turned Darwin's voyage into a facebook and twitter stream, and is repeating it - read about it here: (http://www.metaburbia.com/darwin/). It's a stream of daily or so observations, in Darwin's voice, and stragely compelling.
For example, "Staggered for a few minutes on deck & was much struck by the appearance of the sea" and "Heavy weather. I very nearly fainted from exhaustion."
People are increasingly using new media as their source for science information, but how much to we really understand how new media influences how the messages are received? There are some thought provoking ideas in this short article - worth the read!
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