Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists. Duke Today, Dec. 6, 2016. As a plant extends its roots into the soil, the cells that form at their tips assume different roles, from transporting water to sensing gravity. A study points to one way by which these newly-formed cells take on their special identities, despite containing the same DNA. Researchers have identified a set of DNA-binding proteins in Arabidopsis roots that help precursor cells selectively read different parts of the same genetic script.
Disentangling the plant microbiome. Duke Today, July 12, 2016. With the human population expected to climb from 7.4 billion to more than 11 billion people by 2100, some scientists hope that manipulating the microbial communities in, on and around plants, the plant microbiome, could open up new ways to meet the growing demand for food. But breeding a better microbiome may be easier in some plant tissues and growing conditions than others, finds a study led by researchers at Duke University.
Biomechanics pioneer Steven Vogel dies. Duke Today, Nov. 30, 2015. Duke biologist Steven Vogel, whose eclectic research interests ranged from flying insects and fluttering leaves to swimming squid and nectar-slurping hummingbirds, died on Nov. 24 at Croasdaile Village in Durham. He was 75. Also featured in The Scientist, The New York Times and the Boston Globe.
Plant light sensors came from ancient algae. Duke Today, July 28, 2015. The light-sensing molecules that tell plants whether to germinate, when to flower and which direction to grow were inherited millions of years ago from ancient algae, finds a new study. The findings are some of the strongest evidence yet against the prevailing idea that the ancestors of early plants got the red light sensors that helped them move from water to land by engulfing bacteria, the researchers say.
Dual internal clocks keep plant defenses on schedule. Duke Today, June 22, 2015. Time management isn’t just important for busy people — it’s critical for plants, too. A new study in the journal Nature shows how two biological clocks work together to help plants deal with intermittent demands such as fungal infections, while maintaining an already-packed daily schedule of activities like growth. The researchers also identified a gene that senses disturbances in the “tick-tock” of one clock, and causes the other clock to tighten its timetable.
How eastern U.S. forests came to be. Duke Today, May 20, 2015. Spring visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway will see ridges and valleys covered in flowering mountain laurels, rhododendrons, tulip poplars, dogwoods, black locusts and silverbell trees. A new study of nearly all the trees and shrubs in the southern Appalachians suggests that roughly half of the species can trace their relatives to thousands of miles away in Asia. Most of the rest likely arose within North America, the researchers say. Picked up by Yale Environment 360 and the Courier-Tribune.
How an insect pest switches from sluggish super breeder to flying invasion machine. Duke Today, March 18, 2015. Each year, the rice crop in Asia faces a big threat from a sesame seed-sized insect called the brown planthopper. Now, a study in the journal Nature reveals the molecular switch that enables some planthoppers to develop short wings and others long based on environmental conditions such as day length and temperature — a major factor in their ability to invade new rice fields.
Distant species produce love child after 60 M year breakup. Duke Today, Feb. 13, 2015. A delicate woodland fern discovered in the mountains of France is the love child of two distantly-related groups of plants that haven’t interbred in 60 million years, genetic analyses show. Reproducing after such a long evolutionary breakup is akin to an elephant hybridizing with a manatee, or a human with a lemur, the researchers say. Picked up by Nature and by National Public Radio.
Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 18, 2014. Seeds that sprout as soon as they’re planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More than just an insurance policy against late frosts or unexpected dry spells, it turns out that seed dormancy has long-term advantages too: Plants whose seeds put off sprouting until conditions are more certain give rise to more species, finds a new study.
Small but speedy: Short plants live in the evolutionary fast lane. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. May 21, 2013. Biologists have known for a long time that some creatures evolve more quickly than others. Exactly why isn’t well understood, particularly for plants. But it may be that height plays a role. In a new study, researchers report that shorter plants have faster-changing genomes.
Genes from undersea creature may help crops prosper. Raleigh News and Observer, April 16, 2012. The bottles of amber liquid perched on the bench in Dr. Amy Grunden’s research lab at N.C. State University don’t look like much. But floating within are billions of sea-dwelling microbes – too small to see with the naked eye – that researchers hope will one day help plants survive in space, or produce hardier crops and better biofuels in stressful environments here on Earth.
Not just for the birds: Man-made noise has ripple effects on plants, too. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 21, 2012. A growing body of research shows that birds and other animals change their behavior in response to man-made noise, such as the din of traffic or the hum of machinery. But human clamor doesn’t just affect animals. Because many animals also pollinate plants or eat or disperse their seeds, human noise can have ripple effects on plants too, finds a new study. Picked up by Scientific American, the Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Audubon Magazine, the Miami Herald, BBC News, Science News, Discovery News, the New York Times and TIME Magazine.
How drought-tolerant grasses came to be. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, November 22, 2011. If you eat stuffing or grain-fed turkey this Thanksgiving, give thanks to the grasses — a family of plants that includes rice, corn and wheat. Now, a new grass family tree may help scientists develop more drought-tolerant grains.
The future of a fog oasis. Scientific American Guest Blog, August 19, 2011. In a fast-disappearing desert oasis, scientists are trying to bring a forest back to life – and discovering the imprint of a lost civilization amidst the vanishing trees.
Building a better strawberry. Raleigh News and Observer, June 27, 2011. Scientists and chefs team up to breed a hardier, tastier North Carolina strawberry.
Eat your fruit; it’s good for you. Raleigh News and Observer, May 16, 2011. Plant scientist Mary Ann Lila hopes to pinpoint the natural compounds in blueberries and other fruits that explain their medicinal powers.
Coping with climate change. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, May 11, 2011. Can we predict which species will be able to move far or fast enough to keep up with rising global temperatures? A new study says the secrets to success in the face of a warming world are still elusive.
Evolution drives many plants and animals to be bigger, faster. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 7, 2011. For the vast majority of plants and animals, the ‘bigger is better’ view of evolution may not be far off the mark, says a new study of natural selection.
Scientists look at crops, bugs and animals. Raleigh News and Observer, November 8, 2010. When most people think about genetic engineering, they usually think of genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans. Now, the debate over transgenics is turning from plants to mosquitoes and other pests.
Single parenthood doesn’t pay off for plants. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, November 8, 2010. Plants that can pollinate themselves are more likely to go extinct, says a new study of the nightshade plant family.
DNA barcoding exposes fake ferns in international plant trade. Duke Today, May 4, 2010. DNA testing of garden ferns sold at plant nurseries in North Carolina, Texas, and California has found that plants marketed as American natives may actually be exotic species from other parts of the globe. Picked up by the Raleigh News and Observer and the Charlotte Observer.
Scientists flag possible risks from soy formula. Charlotte Observer, April 26, 2010. Soy formula has been used for decades as an alternative to milk formula for children who are lactose intolerant or whose families wish to maintain a vegan diet. In recent years, however, studies in laboratory animals have raised concerns about the safety of soy.
Gone with the wind: Far-flung pine pollen still potent miles from the tree. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, April 5, 2010. Pollen from the loblolly pine—the most commonly planted tree in the southern US—can still germinate after drifting long distances, which may make it difficult to contain transgenic trees. Picked up by Science News, the Raleigh News and Observer, and the Durham Herald-Sun.
Molecular study could push back angiosperm origins. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 15, 2010. Flowering plants may be considerably older than previously thought, says a new analysis of the plant family tree.