British scientists have made a global appeal for help finding weaknesses in the fungus causing ash dieback after publishing the first molecular sequencing data on the disease.
Using information on the fungus's RNA – the sister molecule of DNA which helps regulate the behaviour of genes – researchers hope to discover how the fungus causes disease, and how it can be stopped. Scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory and the John Innes Centre examined a sample of pith from a twig of an infected Ash tree in Ashwellthorpe wood in Norfolk, the first natural environment where the fungus was found in the UK. From the sample they extracted RNA and sequenced it to help them identify which genes are most influential in allowing the fungus to spread between trees so quickly. In normal circumstances, scientists would analyse the sample thoroughly and have their findings peer-reviewed before publishing them in a journal. But because of the urgency of the situation, the researchers took the unusual step of publishing their data online and asking experts from around the world to help them produce accurate results more quickly through "crowdsourcing".
In a Nature commentary about the Saralini paper, Francois Houllier asks "How do we address the questions about the impact of GM crops, and how do we prevent this kind of negative reaction?" He then suggests more public finding for risk-benefit analyses, as well as "proper academic standards" - specifically, allowing data to be inspected and outside experts to comment on the results (these standards are notably lacking in the Seralini paper). He also points to a GM grapevine rootstock study that was publicly funded with no intention to develop a commercial variety, but nevertheless vandalized.
He concludes, "As scientists, we must champion the multiple concerns of society, even when they make a contradictory call for more innovation as well as more precaution."
If you missed it, BGEN (Botanic Gardens Education Network) hosted a twitter-based "plant activities swapshop", and SAPS (Science and plants for schools) has kindly archived it. Lots of links to activities for all ages, many of which were new to me!
Useful 12 min overview of the benefits of ag biotech. Here's how he describes the talk,
"I am convinced of the benefits biotechnology provides our global population, including saving lives. I have a unique perspective from working around the world as a bioresource engineer for nearly three decades, in addition to my experience as an orchardist and as the founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits. My presentation covers the history and future of biotech crops, why they’re still controversial and the importance of public education in furthering the discussion"
Why is NASA conducting plant research aboard the International Space Station?
This is timely, as I was ranting yesterday about the otherwise worthwhile series "BBC Science Club", which managed to spend an entire hour talking about the human colonization of space and extra-terrestrial life, without once mentioning the words "plant" or "photosynthesis". The previous episode looked at extinction, also without reference to plants, as elegantly summarized by Eoin Lettice (http://www.communicatescience.eu/2012/11/bbc-science-club-and-plant-blindness.html).
If it wasn't an otherwise pretty good effort at presenting science in a fun and entertaining way it wouldn't matter, but it is, and it does. So, spread the word, if humans decide to set up permanent colonies in space, the will be bringing along their life-supporting plants.
Sir David Baulcombe is one of the world's top scientists whose work identified small RNAs, and he's a nice person as well. He will be a Keynote Speaker at the upcoming UK Plant Sciences Federation meeting in Dundee, Scotland, April 2013, which is sure to be a stimulating meeting http://www.plantsci2013.org.uk/programme/
Want to study a degree course with a top graduate salary? Find out which subjects were best for starting salaries last year and the types of jobs that grads go into.
3. Botany (plant sciences): £28,591
Only a handful of students take this subject, but their expertise is in high demand from employers in a number of areas including crop engineering and biofuel research. A substantial number of plant science grads pursue careers in industrial and academic research, and so go on to further study six months after graduation.
The BBC recently broadcast "Attenborough's Ark" in which David Attenborough selects 10 endanged animals he'd put on his ark to resdue for future generations. He makes his selections based on the species' interestingness or uniqueness, and his selections include the black lion tamarin and Sumartan rhino, as well as less familar animals like the solenodon and the olm.
What a great way to get students to think about endangered plants. I'd have teams of students create their own ark lists of 10 threatened plants to preserve for posterity, with justification, followed by a vote for best ark, based on diversity, novelty, rarity, interestingness, etc.
The video is available in the BBC site (in the UK) for a couple more days , and it seems to be on youtube as well.
Horticulturalists provide food to feed the world, beautify our neighbourhoods, decorate our gardens and give ambience and wellbeing by combining the energy of the sun with soil, seeds, water, and ingenuity. Their enterprises range in size from the subsistence micro gardens of villages to huge commercial enterprises with large holdings of greenhouse and field crops and extensive orchards. Horticulture is also parks, public gardens and reserves, sports fields and golf courses, trees, vegetables and flowers in urban and peri-urban communities, home gardens for food and beauty. Such facilities have aesthetic, sociological and psychological benefits for human kind.
"Weeding the Gems" (http://blog.garnetcommunity.org.uk/) is a new community blog from GARNet that posts summaries of papers, events and items of general interest to the plant biology community.
Their latest two posts look at the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea. The first is an overview of a paper from The Plant Cell that looks at high resolution transcriptional responses of Arabidopsis to Botrytis (http://dx.doi.org/10.1105/tpc.112.102046).
They follow up with a fun post of a time-lapse video showing what Botrytis does to a strawberry, and a video about how the wine industry sometimes benefits from Botrytis infection - yummy
The story in Nature, Without, is also in the 'collapsed ecosystem' genre, which I find particularly effective as teaching tools. Yes, it's sci fi, but how sure are we that it isn't where we're headed?
I should also share a link (but not necessarily an endorsement) to "Silent Running", the 1972 film set "in a future where all flora is extinct on Earth. An astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth's plant life being kept in a greenhouse on board a spacecraft" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067756/).