articles

Are plants as smart as dogs?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Being the father of a young child allows me to witness learning every single day. While I do my best to teach my child through explanation and demonstration, I can’t help but notice that he’s also recently developed associative learning. If I go to put on his shoes, for example, my child gets excited because shoes are associated with going outside – the same shoes did not trigger any excitement several months ago. 

Associative learning, also known as classical conditioning, might be familiar to you because of Pavlov’s famous dog.… Read more

An extra pair of genes

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Genes in many organisms tend to hang around in pairs, with one member of the that comes from mum and one coming from dad. But for some species, having just two sets of genes isn’t enough- they like to double or even triple up on things.

Today we’re talking about plants who want more, and what you can do when you have too much of a good thing.… Read more

This seaweed would look completely different without the bacteria around it

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Do you ever wonder how you would have turned out if you’d hung out with different crowds in your youth? All living things – you, me, plants – are shaped by their environments, which includes both non-living/abiotic factors (sun, sea and soil), and biotic factors – the other living things around us.

The seaweed Ulva mutabilis is no different – while growing up its shape and size heavily relies on the microbes around it. And without its bacterial friends, it will never settle down.… Read more

Thorns to branches

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On today’s episode of “how it’s made”: Thorns!

The pointy defence system relied on by many plants has an interesting origin story. Thorns start out as branch-like structures that grow out of the main stem and then, all of a sudden, turn into sharp death spikes. Now, researchers have not only figured out how that happens, but also how it can be stopped. … Read more

Researchers use genetic copy/paste to make better rice

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Oh sun! How beautiful are the days when you shine, how warm is your light, and how much energy do you push into the photosystems of our plants!

Sometimes, as it turns out, that energy is a little too much. A surplus of light creates a major challenge to plants, causing damage to the core of their photosystems. Recent research shows that the simple addition of an extra copy of an important gene can prime plants to keep producing even when the heat is on.… Read more

Diversity driven by the earth

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Reproduction in the plant world isn’t always boy meets girl, or ‘pollen meets pistil’. Sure, some plants are all about the sexual reproduction, but others like to make children clonally. And others still, take the best of both worlds, changing their method of reproduction to suit their environment and needs.

A recent study reveals how the type of children a plant makes can be all about the soil they grown in. Differences in the soil nutrients can make one reproductive strategy more successful than the other, which ultimately changes the genetic makeup of local populations.… Read more

This is why organic soils lead to more resistant plants

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When we deal with pests on crop lands, we usually stick to a few straightforward strategies. We either try to breed more resistant plants or we spray them with specific and less specific pesticides. Organic farming – while still using some spray-on pesticides – has vowed to reduce their use. And as researchers recently discovered, they might do very well without them. … Read more

The bite of the bumblebee

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bees and plants have a strange kind of codependency going on. Plants need bees for pollinating, and bees need pollen to feed their young. So it’s helpful for both parties if everyone involved can coordinate their calendars.

But if the flowers are lacking and the bees get hungry, well then, that’s when the bees begin to bite.… Read more

Not to stimulate cats, they said

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This post is inspired by two great friends. One, VL, who makes it her job to alert me of any and all of the cat-science news and sent around a paper about Cat Mint aka Nepeta spp., and the evolution of the chemicals – nepetalactones – that make cats go crazy.

And another, FM, who read this part of that paper’s abstract:

Most likely, the adaptive function of nepetalactones in Nepeta is to protect against herbivorous insects, not to stimulate cats […]”

And responded jokingly that he preferred his science with a little less opinion.… Read more