Posts Tagged ‘Plants’

Altruism among plants? or do they mean nepotism?

February 2, 2013

There is a suggestion that plants can be “altruistic”  but requires a rather curious definition of altruism as being only when the benefactor is related to the beneficiary. I would have thought that this was a case of nepotism among plants rather than altruism. It does not mirror the altruism observed among animals which are not related.

The research may be fine for all I know but the press release hypes a minor finding and the subsequent publicity is weird.

Colorado University Press Release:

… a study led by the University of Colorado Boulder suggests some plants are altruistic too.

The researchers looked at corn, in which each fertilized seed contained two “siblings” — an embryo and a corresponding bit of tissue known as endosperm that feeds the embryo as the seed grows, said CU-Boulder Professor Pamela Diggle. They compared the growth and behavior of the embryos and endosperm in seeds sharing the same mother and father with the growth and behavior of embryos and endosperm that had genetically different parents.

“The results indicated embryos with the same mother and father as the endosperm in their seed weighed significantly more than embryos with the same mother but a different father,” said Diggle, a faculty member in CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “We found that endosperm that does not share the same father as the embryo does not hand over as much food — it appears to be acting less cooperatively.”

A paper on the subject was published during the week of Jan. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors on the study included Chi-Chih Wu, a CU-Boulder doctoral student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department and Professor William “Ned” Friedman, a professor at Harvard University who helped conduct research on the project while a faculty member at CU-Boulder.

Diggle said it is fairly clear from previous research that plants can preferentially withhold nutrients from inferior offspring when resources are limited. “Our study is the first to specifically test the idea of cooperation among siblings in plants.”

“One of the most fundamental laws of nature is that if you are going to be an altruist, give it up to your closest relatives,” said Friedman. “Altruism only evolves if the benefactor is a close relative of the beneficiary. When the endosperm gives all of its food to the embryo and then dies, it doesn’t get more altruistic than that.”

Science Daily merely reproduces the press release: Some Plants Are Altruistic, Too, New Study Suggests

 

Microbes ate the oil and now plants clean up pollution

October 22, 2010

Not only do microbes eat up methane and other oil wastes faster than expected, it now seems that vegetation eats up air pollution to a much greater degree than thought. A new paper in Science finds that oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs) are taken up by deciduous plants at an unexpectedly fast rate–as much as four times more rapidly than previously thought.

T. Karl, P. Harley, L. Emmons, B. Thornton, A. Guenther, C. Basu, A. Turnipseed, K. Jardine. Efficient Atmospheric Cleansing of Oxidized Organic Trace Gases by VegetationScience, 2010; DOI: 10.1126/science.1192534

From Eurekalert:

“Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized,” says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead author. “They actively consume certain types of air pollution.”

The research team focused on a class of chemicals known as oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs), which can have long-term impacts on the environment and human health. “The team has made significant progress in understanding the complex interactions between plants and the atmosphere,” says Anne-Marie Schmoltner of NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research. The compounds form in abundance in the atmosphere from hydrocarbons and other chemicals that are emitted from both natural sources–including plants–and sources related to human activities, including vehicles and construction materials.

The compounds help shape atmospheric chemistry and influence climate.

Eventually, some oVOCs evolve into tiny airborne particles, known as aerosols, that have important effects on both clouds and human health.

By measuring oVOC levels in a number of ecosystems in the United States and other countries, the researchers determined that deciduous plants appear to be taking up the compounds at an unexpectedly fast rate–as much as four times more rapidly than previously thought.

The uptake was especially rapid in dense forests and most evident near the tops of forest canopies, which accounted for as much as 97 percent of the oVOC uptake that was observed. Karl and his colleagues then tackled a follow-up question: How do plants absorb such large quantities of these chemicals?

The scientists moved their research into their laboratories and focused on poplar trees. The species offered a significant advantage in that its genome has been sequenced. The team found that when the study trees were under stress, either because of a physical wound or because of exposure to an irritant such as ozone pollution, they began sharply increasing their uptake of oVOCs. At the same time, changes took place in expression levels of certain genes that indicated heightened metabolic activity in the poplars.

The uptake of oVOCs, the scientists concluded, appeared to be part of a larger metabolic cycle. Plants can produce chemicals to protect themselves from irritants and repel invaders such as insects, much as a human body may increase its production of white blood cells in reaction to an infection.

But these chemicals, if produced in enough quantity, can become toxic to the plant itself.

 


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