Tag Archives: science

Study says plants don’t like to be touched

Australian scientists say that plants don’t like to be touched: a discovery that could help to optimise future plant growth and productivity in agriculture and horticulture.

The research, which was led by Professor Jim Whelan, Research Director of the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food at AgriBio in Melbourne, found that even the slightest touch can activate a genetic defence response which, if repeated, can slow down plant growth.

“The lightest touch from a human, animal, insect, or even plants touching each other in the wind, triggers a huge gene response in the plant,” according to Professor Whelan. “Within 30 minutes of being touched, 10 per cent of the plant’s genome is altered. This involves a huge expenditure of energy which is taken away from plant growth. If the touching is repeated, then plant growth is reduced by up to 30 per cent.”

The work, which was conducted on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, is thought to apply to most plant species. The next step will be to test this touch response in crop species and examine the potential consequences of breeding plants which are less touch sensitive.

“As we don’t understand why plants display such a strong defence response to touch, if we are to breed less touch-sensitive varieties, we need to first understand what some of the consequences might be,” added Professor Whelan. “For example, could touch-resistant plants be more susceptible to disease because a crucial defence mechanism has been removed?”

Photo caption: Professor Jim Whelan

Photo Credit: La Trobe University

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Engineers make wearable sensors for plants

Scientists at Iowa State University in the United States are developing graphene-based, sensors-on-tape that can be attached to plants and can provide data to researchers and farmers about water use in crops.

The tool, dubbed a “plant tattoo sensor” by researchers, is a tiny graphene sensor that can be taped to plants. Graphene is a carbon honeycomb which is just an atom thick, and is great at conducting electricity and heat, as well as being strong and stable. The graphene-on-tape technology has also been used to produce wearable strain and pressure sensors, including sensors built into a “smart glove” that measures hand movements.

“This fabrication process is very simple,” says lead developer Liang Dong. “You just use tape to manufacture these sensors. The cost is just cents.” In the case of plant studies, the sensors are made with graphene oxide, a material very sensitive to water vapour. The presence of water vapour changes the conductivity of the material, and that can be quantified to accurately measure transpiration from a leaf.

The plant sensors have been successfully tested in lab and pilot field experiments, and a new three-year, $472,363 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will support more field testing.

Photo Caption: Iowa State University researchers have developed these “plant tattoo sensors” to take real-time, direct measurements of water use in crops.

Photo Credit: Liang Dong/Iowa State University

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John Innes Centre edits crop genes

A team of scientists from the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory (UK), have shown that the very latest gene-editing technology CRISPR, can be used to make targeted changes or edits to specific genes.

The trials were carried out using a broccoli-like brassica and barley, and showed that the edits were preserved in subsequent generations. Crucial for GMO research, it was also possible to segregate and remove the transgenes used during the editing process so that subsequent generations of plants are indistinguishable in their make up from plants which have been conventionally bred.

Professor Wendy Harwood, one of the lead authors said, “The beauty of the CRISPR technique is that it can create small changes in specific genes; sufficient to stop them working. Stopping particular genes from working is one way to develop disease resistant crops, for example with resistance to mildew or to produce crops without unwanted compounds including toxins. The final plants produced in this way have no additional DNA inserted so they are essentially the same as plants with naturally occurring changes to genes or plants that have been bred using conventional mutation breeding methods.”

Photo Credit: BBSRC

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