Farmers selected maize for agricultural use at high elevations

By analyzing ancient genomes of maize, scientists have found evidence suggesting that eventual agricultural use of the crop throughout the temperate highlands of the U.S. likely occurred due to propagation of varieties with earlier flowering times.

Humans have been altering tropical forests for at least 45,000 years

The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study, published in Nature Plants, found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. Although previous studies had looked at human impacts on specific tropical forest locations and ecosystems, this is the first to synthesize data from all over the world.

Tree-of-heaven's prolific seed production adds to its invasive potential

Tree-of-heaven -- or Ailanthus -- is an invasive triple threat, according to a team of plant pathologists. The species produces seeds early in its lifespan, tends to make millions of viable seeds during its life, and continues to produce seeds for decades and, in some cases, for more than a century.

What flowers looked like 100 million years ago

Flowering plants with are by far the most diverse group of plants on Earth. Flowering plants arose only about 140 million years ago, but since then have diversified spectacularly. No one knows exactly how this happened, the origin and early evolution of them remains one of the biggest enigmas in biology. A new study in Nature Communications reconstructs the evolution of flowers and sheds new light on what the earliest flowers might have looked like.

Cockroach gardeners: Spreading plant seeds across the forest floor

In forest ecosystems, cockroaches are known as important decomposers that consume dead and decaying plants. Quite unexpectedly, however, researchers have found that they also provide seed dispersal "services" for the plant Monotropastrum humile, a forest-floor herb belonging to the azalea family (Ericaceae). This entirely new mode of plant-insect interactions is reported online in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Cycad leaf physiology research needed

The living cycad species are among the world's most threatened plant groups, but are also among the world's least studied plant groups. The need for a greater understanding of basic physiology of cycads has been discussed for decades, yet to date the needed research is lacking.

'Invasive' species have been around much longer than believed

Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand have used fossil pollen records to solve an on-going debate regarding invasive plant species in eastern Lesotho.

Dinosaur-era plant found alive in North America for first time

Imagine you're at work and suddenly, a cheetah pokes its head through your window.

Climate change threatens some of the world’s best wines

Global warming is affecting the taste and production of wine growing regions across the world. Finding genes better suited to stress and pests can boost resilience

Effects of soil and drainage on the savanna vegetation in the northern Brazilian Amazonia

It is a well-known fact that environmental factors such as soil texture and drainage determine to a very large degree the vegetation appearance, richness and composition at any site. However, there has been little research on how these variables influence the flora in the marvellous savannas -- large open areas characterised by a complex and unique network of natural resources and life forms.

Crops that kill pests by shutting off their genes

Plants are among many eukaryotes that can "turn off" one or more of their genes by using a process called RNA interference to block protein translation. Researchers are now weaponizing this by engineering crops to produce specific RNA fragments that, upon ingestion by insects, initiate RNA interference to shut down a target gene essential for life or reproduction, killing or sterilizing the insects. The potential of this method is reviewed in Trends in Biotechnology's upcoming special issue on environmental biotechnology.

Lupin roots observed in the act of drinking

Soil scientists led by Prof. Sascha Oswald from the University of Potsdam regularly conduct experiments at the BER II neutron source. This is because neutrons are superbly suited for observing the transport of water in soil and plant roots. In addition, the scientists also use deuterated heavy water that can be differentiated from ordinary water extremely well by neutrons. At least an hour of instrument time was previously necessary to generate a detailed three-dimensional mapping of the water distribution using neutron tomography at the CONRAD-2 imaging facility. The scientists have now broken with the paradigm that a subject should move as little as possible during the recording process, as is also the rule in photography. They permitted the lupin plants to rotate slowly but completely within a cylinder of soil while a successive series of extremely brief images were made. The team is now able to conduct this type of 3D mapping during a period of only ten seconds thanks to precision technical modifications in CONRAD-2 carried out by HZB experts Dr. Nikolay Kardjilov and Dr. Ingo Manke.

Unjustified delays in approving biotech crops take thousands of lives

Uncertainty and confusion on genetic engineering of main food crops in Africa have delayed the acceptance and application of these crops by smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Model calculations by a team of researchers from the universities of Wageningen, Munich, Cape Town and Berkeley reveal that the costs of a one year delay in approving the pod-borer resistant cow-pea in Nigeria will cost the country 33 – 46 million dollar; and more disastrously, will take theoretically 100 to 3000 lives, the team reports in Plos ONE.

How plant architectures mimic subway networks

It might seem like a tomato plant and a subway system don't have much in common, but both, it turns out, are networks that strive to make similar tradeoffs between cost and performance.

How gene silencing works in plants

The group of Myriam Calonje Macaya from the Institute of Plant Biochemistry and Photosynthesis (IBVF), a mixed centre from the University of Seville and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIS), in collaboration with the group of Franziska Turck from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research from Cologne, have recently published a study in Genome Biology that means an advance in the knowledge of epigenetic regulation by means of Polycomb-group proteins in plants.

Symbiosis: Butter for my honey

Textbooks tell us that, in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbioses, the host plant supplies its fungal symbionts solely with sugars, in return for inorganic nutrients. New findings by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers now show that lipids are also on the menu.

Researchers find corn gene conferring resistance to multiple plant leaf diseases

Researchers at North Carolina State University have found a specific gene in corn that appears to be associated with resistance to two and possibly three different plant leaf diseases.

Plant parasite dodder transmits signals among different hosts

Around 1% of flowering plants are parasites. Some of these parasites can survive without host plants while others cannot. The former are called facultative parasites and the latter obligate parasites.

Two undergrads improve plant carbon-cycle models

In the summer of 2012, two undergraduate students tackled a problem that plant ecology experts had overlooked for 30 years. The students demonstrated that different plant species vary in how they take in carbon dioxide and emit water through stomata, the pores in their leaves. The data boosted the accuracy of mathematical models of carbon and water fluxes through plant leaves by 30 to 60 percent.

What do sex in moss and neurons have in common?

For many years biologists have wondered why plants have so many genes coding for proteins that are known to be essential for the nervous system of animals, called glutamate receptors. Now, researchers from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC, Portugal) and University of Maryland (UMD, USA) discovered a new function for those proteins, showing that moss sperm uses them to navigate its swimming towards the female organs and ensure offspring. This study was published in Nature.

Shaping up against pathogens

Plants can reprogram their genetic material to mount a defensive response against pathogens, which may have applications for agriculture.

New Phytologist Trust launches new journal: Plants People Planet

The New Phytologist Trust, in partnership with John Wiley & Sons, is announcing the launch of a new crossdisciplinary Open Access journal: Plants, People, Planet, led by Professor Simon Hiscock (University of Oxford, UK and Director of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum). This exciting new journal will focus on the interface between plant science and society, offering a lively and accessible forum for plant science research and discussion in its broadest sense.

Paying people to protect forests is worth it

A new Northwestern University study suggests that paying people to conserve their trees could be a highly cost-effective way to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions and should be a key part of the global strategy to fight climate change.

On the path to vitamin A in rice

The lack of vitamin A in food is a major cause of health problems worldwide and can lead to blindness and even death. This is especially a problem in threshold or third-world countries, where children are likely to suffer from a lack of vitamin A or its precursor beta-carotene due to malnourishment. Among their many functions, carotenoids are responsible for the bright orange color of sweet potatoes as well as their namesake, the carrot. Thanks to its intense color, beta-carotene is used in the food industry in soft drinks, yoghurts, and other food and is known as food coloring E160. Rice, which is the most important basic nutrient in Asia, has no beta-carotene in its kernel, but there are carotenoids in the leaves of the rice plant. These long, fat-soluble pigments are used by the plant not only in photosynthesis, during which the plant generates energy and oxygen, but in other processes as well.

Heritage and ancient grain project feeds a growing demand

After a century of markets dominated by a few types of wheat and white flour, ancient and heritage wheat varieties are making a comeback.

In New Phytologist: Cucumbers in space provide insights on root growth

Scientists at Tohoku University in Japan have untangled the competing influences of water and gravity on plant roots – by growing cucumbers in spaceflight.

Mixed outcomes for plants and animals in warmer 2080s climate

More than three quarters of plants and animals in England are likely to be significantly affected by climate change by the end of the century, say researchers.

Nesting aids make agricultural fields attractive for bees

Wild bees are important pollinators of many crop plants – sometimes they are even more efficient than honeybees. Their numbers can be increased sustainably using simple means as a recent study has found.

Parasitic worms may lead to agricultural stem cell breakthrough

The plant parasitic nematode is an agricultural pest that has no fundamental countermeasures and requires the development of resistant plant varieties or pesticides. This parasitic pest creates a nest called a "gall" on the roots of agricultural crops which reduces the ability of a plant to absorb nutrition. Once this pest takes hold, a crop may die or its value may be significantly reduced. Furthermore, once infected with this troublesome pest, it is impossible to grow crops in the same field for several years. Agricultural damage caused by this nematode has recently been expanding around the world.

Hitting the bull's eye on crop nutrient requirements

Researchers from Aarhus University have developed a method to match crop nitrogen requirements more precisely than ever before. The method can reduce agricultural nitrogen emissions and simultaneously optimise yield.