SPPS Newsletter September 2012

Index of Issue IV 2012

Group photo of the happy participants of the 7th SPPS PhD Student Conference. Photo by Kadri Moks.

The 7th SPPS PhD Student Conference was held in Estonia from 12th to 15th of September 2012. Altogether 90 PhD students and scientists gathered to the Laulasmaa conference center located in pine forest on beautiful sandy beach to share and discuss their recent discoveries in various fields of plant science and to establish new contacts.

Topics of scientific sessions ranged from molecular signalling to atmosphere-biosphere interactions. First talk of every session was by invited speakers:

  • Silke Robatzek (UK)
  • Claudia Köhler (Sweden)
  • Francesco Loreto (Italy)
  • David Ellsworth (Australia)
  • Tim Brodribb (Australia)
  • Cecilia Sarmiento (Estonia)
  • Ülo Niinemets (Estonia)
  • Jianhua Zhang (Hong Kong)

After each invited talk, the PhD students’ oral presentations followed. In addition to scientific sessions two panel discussions were held at the conference.

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The 2013 SPPS Congress will be held at LO-skolen situated north of Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Tom Hamborg Nielsen

The next SPPS congress is now being planned by a local organizing committee together with a broader Scandinavian scientific advisory committee. The dates for the conference are now set to 11th -15th August 2013. On the first day, Sunday, there will be arrival and registration and ‘welcome sessions’ and the scientific program over the following three and a half days will include 8 different plenary sessions with invited speakers and poster session.

We aim for a meeting of high quality and covering a number of topics of common interest to a broad field of plant biologists – under headings such as Chemical ecology, Breakthrough technologies, Developmental plant biology, Synthetic biology, Abiotic stress and more.

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Ginkgo leaves by Zoë Popper won the SPPS photo competition ‘What I see in Plants’. Photo courtesy Zoë Popper.

The winner of the SPPS photo competition What I see in Plants was selected during the recent SPPS PhD student meeting in Laulasmaa, Finland. The honor and the 500 € prize sum went to Zoë Popper for her photo Ginkgo leaves (click the title to see a larger version).

Zoë Popper holds a PhD degree and is a lecturer at the National University of Ireland. Besides from being an enthusiastic photographer that uses her own photos for teaching, she is studying plant cell walls from an evolutionary perspective. We invited Zoë Popper to write her own story and below you can read more about her interest in photography and how it connects to her research interests:

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SPPS members can now get 25% discount on books from Wiley-Blackwell. Montage by Gorm Palmgren

As a new benefit to your SPPS membership, you can now get 25% discount on books from Wiley-Blackwell. Wiley-Blackwell publishes more than 1,500 new books annually in a diverse range of academic and professional fields, including biology, and an equal number of peer-reviewed scientific journals – one of them being the Society’s own Physiologia Plantarum. You can choose from more than 300 books in plant biology, and among this years new offerings are Seed Genomics by Philip W. Becraft and Improving Water and Nutrient-Use Efficiency in Food Production Systems by Zed Rengel.

Stay tuned for more information on how to make use of this exciting offer.

The SPPS homepage will get a new design by the end of the year. From www.spps.fi

The design and layout of the SPPS homepage will be updated by the end of this year. We are busy moving the content and are looking forward to welcoming you to enjoy the same information, news, articles etc in a newer and more modern wrapping. You can read more about the new homepage in the next issue of SPPS Newsletter that will be published in December.

Powerful substances in Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), willow tree (Salix spp) and Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) cure serious and common diseases. Montage by Gorm Palmgren

Humans have used wild plants for traditional medicine since our earliest civilization, and the number of plant species used for this purpose is in the range of 10,000 to 53,000 – an astonishing number considering that nature ‘only’ counts around 400,000 plant species in total. The healing power is caused by a myriad of chemical substances, which plants produce to enhance their own survival – eg to deter herbivory insects or inhibit growth of competing plants. By some people, these chemicals are highly praised as natural, unblemished by vicious pharmaceutical companies and opposed to poisonous, man-made pills created with profits in mind.

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The library is one of the many historical buildings that dates back form the founding of Lund University in 1666. Photo by AMDaZERG from www.fotocommunity.com

Located at the Southern part of Sweden – in the province of Scania or Skåne – Lund University is the largest university in Scandinavia. It has an astonishing 47,000 students that make up about half of the city’s total population of around 100,000 and this is clearly reflected in the culture, nightlife, sports and other activities of Lund. The university is consistently among the top 100 universities in the world and it also holds this fine position in a more narrow ranking considering only natural sciences.

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A major problem with many vegetables – not the least peppers – is post-harvest water loss that leads to shriveling and severely reduces shelf-life quality. Water is lost by diffusion through the cuticle, which is the waxy substance that covers almost all aerial plant surfaces. Cutin, a class of waxy polymers, is a major component of the cuticle, but its monomeric composition has not previously been linked to water retention. This question has now been addressed by Matthew Jenks from US Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Arizona who studied an advanced backcross of the two peppers Capsicum annuum and Capsicum chinense with high and low post-harvest water loss rates, respectively. Offspring in the BC2F2 generation differed more than threefold in wax amount and composition as well as in their water retention capacity. Jenks and colleagues found that water loss rate was significantly correlated to the total amount of cutin and that the monomer 10,16-di-hexadecanoic acid (16:0 di-OH) as well as other C16 monomers apparently played a key role in keeping the water.

Read full article here: Parsons et al (June 2012) Physiologia Plantarum 146: 15

Hybrid sterility is common among plants and is also seen in cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) where crossings between two of the most popular subspecies indica (long grained or ‘common’ rice) and japonica (sushi rice) yield a sterile hybrid. Chinese researchers have now looked into the genetics of rice hybrid sterility and they found three genes that act in concert in hybrids between the two subspecies of cultivated rice. The three thightly linked genes – ORF3, ORF4, and ORF5 – participate in a killer-protector system, where ORF5 is the killer that together with its partner ORF4 causes stress on the endoplasmic reticulum, which eventually causes the developing embryo to be aborted. The stress, however, activates the protector, ORF3, that are able to stabilize and protect the endoplasmic reticulum so the embryo can survive. When activities of the three genes are properly balanced, the seeds will be fertile, while they will be sterile in unbalanced hybrids. Since hybrid sterility can be an obstacle to rice genetic improvement, the findings may lead to new ways of bypassing hybrid sterility and thereby improve this important crop.

Source: Yang et al (14 September 2012) Science 337: 1336

The fruit of the African tropical plant Pollia condensata has a dazzling luminous blue color that vividly changes when seen from different angels. Being one of the worlds most intensely colored biological materials, the skin of the fruit has now been subject to optical and anatomical studies from British scientists to find out how the color arises. The studies show that pigments are not involved and that the color is purely structural, ie caused by interference effects. Tiny nanoscale fiber-like cellulose strands are stacked in multiple parallel layers that form a helix within the cellwalls of the fruit’s skin. There is a slight variation in the distance between layers and this cause the circularly polarized light to be reflected either left or right from every cell. The result is a luminous and slightly pixellated appearance that constantly changes when viewed from different angels. The structural coloration is similar to that found in scarab beetles and the two methods apparently arose through convergent evolution. The authors suggest that the plant utilize the colors to attract seed dispersers that use the fruits for decorating their nests to attract mates.

Source: Vignolini et al (10 September 2012) PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1210105109