DNA sequencing – The Methods that Made us

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every living thing depends on the information stored in its genetic material. DNA, the code passed down through generations and geological time, defines an organism. Within individual cells, DNA is transcribed into RNA, that is then translated to busy proteins: DNA is the starting block for cellular development and activity!

Furthermore, the genetic information of every being also tells the story of its evolution, its relatives and its adaptation to the environment.

It’s no wonder that scientists longed to decode the secrets of the DNA sequence ever since its discovery. … Read more

When this tree is stressed, it becomes female

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We all have different strategies to deal with stress. Some resort to excessive day-sleeping, others, like me, empty their sweets cupboard. For the striped maple, the response is even more extreme: when stress becomes too high, it changes its sex to female. … Read more

No, your plants won’t purify the air of your office

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sitting in an office is rarely fun. Sure, sometimes you sit with crazy colleagues that you quite cherish and who will eventually start a plant blog with you… but how often does that happen, really? Apart from the work itself, the ‘office’ part of office work means being stuck indoors for hours and hours, sitting at a desk, breathing that same old recirculated air filled with the smells of the floor, desk, chair, office printer, and of course your co-worker‘s new cologne.… Read more

You have to be quick to do science on cell defence – really quick

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Plants form relationships with bacteria all the time, but these relationships vary a lot. Sometimes, the two are best friends who share nutrients, while at other times they are their worst of enemies. Bacterial infection of plants can cause galls, growths, wilts, spots, speck, scabs, blights and rots. Which not only sounds gross, but can also seriously damage the health of the plant, and the quality of the plant product we humans want to consume (food, fuel, furniture?).

In order to help plants fight the good fight against bacterial invaders, our job as humans is to first understand the current state of the war – how it is that plants use the weapons at hand to defend themselves.… Read more

Algal biofuels have a gassy problem

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Following on from Monday’s post, where we delved into the nitrogen cycle, today we’re again talking about gaseous nitrogen. But this time, the story is about nitrous oxide.

You may have heard nitrous oxide called ‘nitrous’ or even ‘laughing gas’ before – the stuff has been used as an anaesthetic since the mid 1800s, and is known from the euphoria it brings to those who inhale it.

But more recently, this simple little gas has gained infamy for something not quite so funny: following carbon dioxide and methane, nitrous oxide is the third most damaging of the greenhouse gases that drive the climate crisis.… Read more

Can Scientists Hack Nitrogen Fixation?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We are surrounded by nitrogen.

The important life processes of photosynthesis and respiration revolve heavily around oxygen and carbon dioxide, but it’s nitrogen gas (N2) that makes up 78% of the air. This actually could be great, both plants and animals also need nitrogen to survive. It’s used in the amino acids that make our proteins, in the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. There’s even a little bit found in chlorophyll.

But that 78% hanging around us in the air just happens to be fixed in an inaccessible form.… Read more

Stress + Stress = … Stress²

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As researchers, stressing plants is one of our favourite tasks. We withhold water, raise and drop the temperature, bring in some bugs, or spray our plants with chemicals. All just to see how they react. Most of the time, we pick a particular type of stress and investigate how plants cope with the situation. But outside of the lab, of course, stresses rarely come alone.

It’s time to investigate combined stresses.… Read more

Let’s grow to joy division planes

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The other day, I was podcasting with Tegan and, as she often does, she described another fascinating carnivorous plant: Nepenthes aristolochioides has a large pitcher that lures flies into it to digest them. It got me thinking, the traps of carnivorous plants are these intricate, specialised organs that look so very different from the leaves, stems and flowers of other plants. I wanted to know how they are formed.… Read more

Attempted burglary

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Pathogenic bacteria are the burglars of the plant world. They break and enter and wreak havoc within a plant cell as they grab whatever they find useful – mostly delicious nutrients. Just like with real burglars, the key to stopping them is a proper door – unless the burglar have a way to pry it open.… Read more

Advent Calendar Day 22 – The no BS rose for Christmas

Sometimes, adaption means avoiding trouble. Picking a favourable season to grow, a place with no herbivores or choosing a time when there is a surplus of eager pollinators. Sometimes, adaption means powering through all adversities while standing your ground. Today, we talk about the latter. 

Alpine plants don‘t have it easy. Growth periods are short as temperatures quickly drop after summer and take a long time to recover at the end of winter. Some plants adapt by growing, flowering, setting and dispersing seeds within a brief period of time, so that they get everything done before winter is back.… Read more