SPPS Newsletter October 2006

Index of Issue III 2006

Vaughan Hurry’s Australian heritage is apparent.

Vaughan Hurry, Associate Professor at Umeå Plant Science Centre, has been appointed new editor-in-chief of Physiologia Plantarum. He replaces Per Gardeström, whom he has been assisting as associated subject editor for the last couple of years.

During this period, the journal has seen a significant transformation (read former article in SPPS Newsletter) and Vaughan has been especially involved in preparing the new Special Issues and setting up guidelines for authors and editors in order to keep the journal focused and consistent. In his new position, Vaughan is enthusiastic to follow how the improvements will come into effect.

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Jan K. Schjørring (right), new president of FESPB, and Jaakko Kangasjärvi holds the society’s banner. Photo by Tom Hamburg Nielsen.

President of SPPS, Jan K. Schjørring, is now formally also president of FESPB, the Federation of European Societies of Plant Biology. According to the statutes, the member organization in charge of arranging the next FESPB congress is also heading the society. And since SPPS will be hosting the 2008 event in Tampere, Finland, the honour of holding presidency for FESPB goes to SPPS for the next two years.

Jan K. Schjørring has previously announced (see former article in SPPS Newsletter) that under his leadership, he envisions a much closer cooperation with EPSO, the European Plant Science Organisation. The two organisations complement each other well in terms of representation in Eastern and Western Europe as well as in institutional and private memberships, and by uniting forces they could potentially strengthen European plant biology.

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From the cosy congress dinner in Lyon. Photo by Tom Hamburg Nielsen.

The XVth FESPB Congress took place in Lyon during July 2006 and attracted a lot of scientists from all over the world. The 10 main topics were exhaustively covered with no less than 140 oral presentations – including 14 plenary lectures – and an overwhelming 702 poster abstracts. One of the biggest attractions was the topic of abiotic stress with a total of 264 abstracts and 15 lectures.

The ‘Development’-topic with individual sessions devoted to development of floral, vegetative and fruit tissues, respectively, also attracted a lot of interest. In his plenary lecture, Elliot Meyerowitz from Caltech, USA, presented new methods for imaging cells and gene activities in living Arabidopsis shoot apical meristem. Using fluorescence laser-scanning confocal microscopy and computer-based image processing they can follow gene expression and protein location over a period of several days.

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Despite approval, GMOs have a tough time in EU. Graphic by Gorm Palmgren.

After a turbulent period in the beginning of the millennium, the EU Commission and member states have finally settled on legislation that basically accepts deliberate release of genetically modified crops and marketing of foods and feeds containing GMOs. But years of public hesitation and opposition have had their impact. In contrast to the US – where every supermarket has several GMO-based food products on the shelves – European scientists, food industry and retailers are reluctant to even touch genetically modified crops.

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Professor Jan K. Schjørring, President of SPPS, expresses his views on GMO crops and foods. Photo courtesy of SPPS.

1. The new EU directive allows for marketing of GMO foods, but are EU consumers willing to buy them?
Yes, if the products become sufficiently attractive. This is also indicated by a recent survey made by Epinion in Denmark showing that almost every second person between 18 and 30 years of age will accept to eat GMO food like maize or rice. For persons aged above 30, only every fourth would be prepared to buy GMO foods.

2. After years of hesitation, will EU be able to compete with US and Asia on R&D in GMOs?
It will be difficult in the disease resistance area. However, improved quality properties for food and feed are still an emerging issue where Europe has a strong research basis. The same is the case for improved stress tolerance of plants.

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The main building of Göteborg University is guarded by lions. Photo courtesy of Göteborg University.

Göteborg is the second largest town in Sweden, but its university is the largest in the whole of Scandinavia. With 51.000 students, 5.221 employees, 8 faculties and 70 departments it is uniquely wide-ranging and offers the most comprehensive selection of courses in Sweden. The university dates back to 1891 and experienced rapid expansion during the 1950s and 1960s – increasing the number of students from only 500 to 21.000 in two decades.

Plant molecular biology, however, was not established as an independent subject until 2001. It is now part of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, which also covers research in plant physiology, systematics, applied environmental science, ecology and the university’s herbarium. The approximately 17 plant molecular biologists in Göteborg are using molecular, genetic, biochemical and physiological approaches to investigate biological processes in the model plants Arabidopsis and rice.

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Coping with osmotic stress requires a plant to adjust both the water level and the salt concentration within its cells, and according to a new Chinese study these functions seem to be co-regulated. Scientists from Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences studied potassium and water channels in 3 weeks old rice seedlings. During water stress genes encoding both water channel and potassium channel proteins were downregulated, presumably in order to promote celluar water conservation. On the contrary, K+-starvation resulted in upregulation of the genes encoding both channels.

Read full article here: Liu et al (September 2006) Physiologia Plantarum 128: 58-69

A team of scientists from Sweden and other countries have published the full draft genome sequence of a tree, Populus trichocarpa or black cottonwood. With 45,000 putative genes, the Populus genome is about 50% larger than in Arabidopsis and many of these extra genes is related to cell wall biosynthesis, meristem development, metabolite transport and disease resistance. The authors argue that these genes reflect the special needs of a tall, long-lived, woody species that must coordinate signalling and nourishment over long distances, make wood and cope with long term changes in biotic and abiotic stress.

Source: Tuskan et al (15 September 2006) Science 313: 1596-1604

Plastids in all plants are thought to have arisen from a single primary endosymbiosis event about 1.5 billion years ago, when a cyanobacterium was captured by a cell. Little is known about how this and subsequent genomic changes occured, but now researchers from the University of Cologne have a clue. They studied the thecate amoeba Paulinella chromatophora, which is the single known case of an independent primary plastid acquisition. Sequncing the plastid genome revealed a close relationship to the Prochlorococcus-type cyanobacterium and showed that a photosynthetic gene, which resides in the nucleus of all plants and algae, is still present on the plastid. The amoeba plastid has also retained nitrogen fixation genes that are absent from all other plastids.

Source: Yoon et al (5 September 2006) Current Biology 16: R670-R672