SPPS Newsletter December 2014

Index of Issue IV 2014

Participants of the 1st SPPS ECPI meeting held in Nantaali Finland on 25-26 November 2014. Click to enlarge. Photo by Kirk Overmyer

The next generation of Scandinavian plant scientists are getting organized. On 25-26 November, a group of twenty one early career PIs met at the Nantaali Spa Hotel in Western Finland for the first ECPI Meeting. The purpose of the meeting was for early career researchers to meet their peers in order to promote collaboration and common grant proposals between SPPS members and other researchers in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The meeting was organized by a committee of eleven researchers from Finland and Norway, which was chaired by Saijaliisa Kangasjärvi from the University of Turku. Michael Wrzaczek, from the University of Helsinki, was the secretary. The full organizing committee along with other information about the first meeting can be found at plantworld.fi/ECPI2014.

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A new position as Society Secretary is available at SPPS. From www.spps.fi

SPPS is seeking a qualified person for a new full-time position as a Society Secretary. The position is to be located in Lund, Sweden, in connection with the Physiologia Plantarum office, where a new permanent SPPS office will be located. The position is available from 1st May 2015, and applications should be sent by January 30th 2015 to the SPPS office at office@spps.fi. You can download the full application announcement here.

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Renew or sign up now. Graphic by Gorm Palmgren.

Now, it is time to renew your SPPS membership and you can do so very easily on our membership page. You have several options for membership – both student or regular – and you can choose to pay only for next year or get 33% discount by paying upfront for 5 years. Moreover, you can top-up your membership with a print subscription to our journal Physiologia Plantarum. All fees are the same as last year.

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Claudia Köhler will talk about epigenetic mechanisms for parental conflicts. From kohlerlab.se

In our series of presenting the keynote speakers at the 26th SPPS Congress, Plant Biology Scandinavia 2015, we will this time turn to the session on Epigenetics and gene regulations and the first part of the High throughput biology session. According to the preliminary programme, they are planned to take off on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, respectively. The session on epigenetics will be opened by Claudia Köhler from SLU, Uppsala in Sweden. She will report from the battleground for parental conflict which occurs in the endosperm and serves as the driving force for evolution of incompatible allele combinations. “This topic allows to address a very fundamental problem of biology that has fascinated many biologists since Darwin: Why are there so many species in the world?” says Claudia, and research in her lab has revealed that epigenetic mechanisms have a strong impact on plant speciation. This was very recently discussed in a review article in Current Opinion in Plant Biology that she wrote together with her colleague Clément Lafon-Placette.

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Activists uproot genetically modified corn plants in Southern France earlier this year. Photo from AFP/Getty Images/Wall Street Journal

In October, four Swedish plant scientists raised concern about how NGOs and politicians are neglecting or manipulating scientific evidence on the safety of genetically modified crops and thereby spur a negative public opinion to GMOs on an unjustified grounding. The scientists argue that GM plants – either used as crops or for research – are key to solving some of the greatest challenges facing mankind and that scientific evidence almost invariably have proved their safety. Many NGOs and politicians, however, base their opinions on almost religious beliefs rather than scientific evidence and accordingly misinform the public and undermine their confidence in GMOs.

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In an increasingly internet driven age, what skills do people need to help them interpret and understand important scientific issues? Photo by auremar, shutterstock.com

Advancing biology education has always been integral to the mission of the SPPS education committee. Since the conception of the committee, we have recognised the importance of reaching out, not only to those involved in academia, but also to future scientists, science educators and the general public. This is a huge task, not least because we span four countries, five languages (six if you include English!) and recognise the importance of reaching out to all levels of education. As we plan how to proceed with our mission in the coming years, is it time to stop and think how science education is changing? For many years science education was based on memorising and regurgitating facts. This system has become out-dated because all known facts are easily accessible at our fingertips through the internet. Is it therefore time to focus science education and outreach, not about teaching or preaching facts, but instead about teaching how to deal with the facts?

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Cell wall lignin is formed by peroxidases through oxidation of monolignols to radicals that can subsequently polymerize to lignin. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used as an oxidant and is produced by various enzymes in the plasma membrane. In order to study this process in Norway spruce (Picea abies), Anna Kärkönen from University of Helsinki – Secretary General of SPPS – and her colleagues from Finland, Germany and Austria first had to develop a protocol for purification of plasma membranes from the lignin-forming tissues of this species, as its phenolics-rich tissues have hitherto made such attempts unsuccessful. Modified homogenization buffers and two-phase partitioning enabled preparation of partially purified plasma membranes from both developing xylem and tissue-cultured cells. The membrane fractions contained several redox-enzymes capable of producing superoxide (O2•-) in the presence of NADH or NADPH. Some of these enzymes were identified by staining or mass spectrometry while others were characterized by how superoxide production was affected by substrate (NADP or NADPH) and activators like naphthoquinones juglone and menadione.

Read full article here: Kärkönen et al (December 2014) Physiologia Plantarum 152: 599

The proverb goes that you can’t have your cake and eat it, but according to a new study this does not apply to the valuable timber in tropical forests. Jake Bicknell from University of Kent in the United Kingdom conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies that have addressed biological diversity in tropical forests managed by either conventional logging or reduced-impact logging (RIL). RIL is a logging practice that aims to reduce the impact on the surrounding environment when trees are harvested. Unintended damage typical occurs when logging roads are not well-planned and when cut trees are intertwined with adjacent trees and take them with them in the fall or crush them by simply falling into them. Directional felling and cutting the vines along with well-planned logging roads appear to cause less harm to arthropods, birds as well as mammals and leads to a reduced shift in species abundance after logging. The study suggests that there is no direct correlation to logging intensity and damage levels, and that it is indeed possible to preserve the tropical forests while still utilizing the timber – if consumers opt to demand only RIL certified wood.

Source: Bicknell et al (3 September 2014) Current Biology 24: pR1119

Billions of dollars are lost every year to the brown planthopper (Nilaparvata lugens) – a phloem-sucking herbivore that almost exclusively feeds on rice (Oryza sativa). While 28 resistance loci have been identified and some of them – e.g. bph1 and bph2 – have been used in breeding programmes, the herbivore has invariably adapted and broken down resistance within a few years. The molecular basis of one of the more promising candidates, bph3, has hitherto been unknown but has now been cloned and characterized by Jianmin Wan from Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, China. The resistance locus turns out to be a cluster of three genes encoding plasma membrane-localized lectin receptor kinases that apparently confers broad spectrum insect resistance. All seedlings of a cultivar containing the bph3 gene cluster, Rathu Heenati, survived after infestation of brown planthoppers, while all seedlings of a susceptible cultivar died, and when RNAi strategies was used to knock down bph3 expression, mortality in the otherwise resistant cultivar increased from 0% to 50-100%. The Chinese scientists used both transgenic and marker-assisted selection strategies to insert the gene cluster in susceptible rice cultivars and this rendered them almost completely resistant.

Source: Liu et al (8 December 2014) Nature Biotechnology doi:10.1038/nbt.3069

The Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences will soon move into a new building. From www.su.se

Residing in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm University is the largest in the country with around 29,000 full-time students and 5,000 employees, two thirds of which are engaged in research or teaching. All research related to plants is concentrated at a single place, namely the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences that was established only two years ago after the merger of the departments of botany and systems ecology. The department has a scientific staff of around 135 including PhD students and research in higher plants is not restricted to the ‘Plant Sciences’ part of the departments name, but is also present in the ‘Ecology’ and ‘Evolution’ parts.

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