Whats new in the world of Plants?

January so far has been an exciting month for plant science- here are three of my favourite plant stories that may have passed you by!

Plant Tattoos:

Scientists from Iowa State University have developed a new graphene-based, sensors on tape that can be attached to plants. This tool dubbed the “plant tattoo sensor” is a basically a tiny graphene sensor that can be stuck onto plant leaves.

plant tattoo
Plant tattoo sensors can be used to take real-time measurements of water use in crops. source: https://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2018/01/03/planttattoosensors

With this tool, water use in crops can be measured, both by farmers and researchers, and utimately new plant breeds can be made that are more efficient in using water.

But thats not all- there is also potential for this technology to expand out from plants, and be used in a wide range of applications from biomedical diagnostics to checking the structural integrity of buildings.

Solving the mystery Charles Darwin called “abominable”.

Since Darwins time scientists have tried to understand how flowering plants conquered the world.

source: pixabay

Flowering plants are the dominant plants in most of our ecosystems, making up to 90% of all living plant species.  Their dominance in the plant world came suddenly and rapildy, with flowering plants overtaking ferns and conifers which predate them.  However, how they did this was always a mystery.. up until now.

New research shows that its all down to genome size- the smaller the better. The genome is all the genetic material of an organism.  The success of flowering plants seems to be due to the downsizing of their genomes – this enabled smaller cells allowing for more CO2 uptake, and photosyntheic game- giving more energy to the plant.

This genome downsizing only occured in flowering plants, and appears to have been a prerequisite for rapid growth rates among land plants, and the secret to their success.

The parasitic plant able to take control of its host

You have probably heard of the insect- controlling fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis which is able to alter the behaviour of the insect it is infecting…

Well, now a parasitic plant has been shown to do a similar-ish thing- though its not quite as dramatic to behold.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that causes huge damage to crops across the world every year. This plant is not able to survive by itself- it has to get its nutrients and water from its host. This is not new in the plant world.. but Dodder has another trick up its sleeve. It can regulate the expression of its hosts genes.

Cuscuta europaea on Sambucus ebulus Source: wikimedia

Dodder passes microRNAs- which are short pieces of DNA and RNA- into its host. These microRNAs are able to attach to messenger RNA and prevent proteins being made. What was really interesting was that the microRNAs being made by Dodder, specifically targeted host genes that would normally help in the plants defense against the parasite.

If Plant science news interests you- check out these two websites for all the latest plant news!



The Research Papers:

“Wearable Electronics: High-Resolution Patterning and Transferring of Graphene-Based Nanomaterials onto Tape toward Roll-to-Roll Production of Tape-Based Wearable Sensors,”

Genome downsizing, physiological novelty, and the global dominance of flowering plants

MicroRNAs from the parasitic plant Cuscuta campestris target host messenger RNAs


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