In this episode of our Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis plant biologist Siobhan Brady talks about her work on roots.
Roots are the key innovation that allowed plants to conquer the land. They allow a plant to explore its environment, seeking out water and nutrients. A cell type within roots called xylem transports water and also provides support for land plants, allowing them to grow swiftly like a field of corn or reach towering heights of a sequoia.
Brady’s lab is looking at the network of genes that work together to control how xylem cells develop and grow, looking especially at the lab plant Arabidopsis, domestic tomato and its wild relatives, and the African staple crop sorghum.
Full post: Podcast: Science at the Root
(137 words, estimated 33 secs reading time)
By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”
Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)
First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.
Full post: Banker Plants Control Rice Pests
(420 words, 1 image, estimated 1:41 mins reading time)
By Alex Russell
At one time, rice farmers in Haiti could meet demand for all Haitians. Today, national rice production accounts for less than one-fifth of consumption. Increasing the amount of rice farmers can grow could be key to reducing poverty and improving food security in Haiti, especially among the 1.6 million people who live in the Artibonite Valley, the largest rice-producing region in the nation.
Rice farmers in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley could boost yield with new practices, but at a cost, say UC Davis researchers.
By Jenna Gallegos
Scientists at the University of California, Davis have discovered that DNA sequences thought to be essential for gene activity can be expendable. Sequences once called junk sometimes call the shots instead.
Jenna Gallegos with an Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Sometimes called “thale cress,” Arabidopsis is a popular plant for laboratory studies.
Professor Alan Rose has been working for over two decades to unravel a mechanism called “intron-mediated enhancement.” I’m a graduate student in Rose’s lab, and we made an exceptional discovery in an unexceptional plant called Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress.
Represents Most Successful Group of Flowering Plants
By Pat Bailey
Today (April 12), UC Davis researchers announced in Nature Communications that they have unlocked a treasure-trove of genetic information about lettuce and related plants, releasing the first comprehensive genome assembly for lettuce and the huge Compositae plant family.
Lettuce belongs to a large Compositae family of plants. A lettuce flower shows the similarity to plants such as ragweed and sunflowers. (Gregory Urquiaga)
Garden lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is the plant species that includes a salad bar’s worth of lettuce types, ranging from iceberg to romaine. With an annual on-farm value of more than $2.4 billion, it is the most valuable fresh vegetable and one of the 10 most valuable crops, overall, in the United States.
By Katherine Ingram
Spring is in the air in California’s Central Valley. Birds are bathing in puddles that dot the landscape, and bats are swooping in and out of streetlights at dusk. Both groups of wildlife are feasting on bugs emerging after this winter’s epic rains.
Bats are voracious predators of insects. Photo of Pallid bat by merlintuttle.org
The sight is a pleasant reminder of the abundance of wildlife that lives alongside us, performing tasks that inadvertently aid humans, such as natural pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal.
Full post: Bring On The Bats (And Birds And Raptors)
(535 words, 1 image, estimated 2:08 mins reading time)
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers rely on this grain for food and feed. But Striga, a parasitic weed, can have a devastating impact on crop yield. With a grant of $8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international team including UC Davis researchers will now explore the potential of soil microbes to offer crop protection. The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) is coordinating the five-year project.
A sorghum field infested with Striga (purple flowers). The parasitic plant destroys up to half of Africa’s sorghum crop. (Taye Tessema, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)
By Lisa Howard
Soil Actually Has a Microbiome
Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.
Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.
A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.
Molds that contaminate dry foods, especially ground nuts and maize cause significant postharvest losses in the developing world. Mold contamination results in poor flavor, loss of dry matter, and most importantly, is a health hazard. Aflatoxin, produced by several fungi, contaminates up to one quarter of the world’s food crops and is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It causes acute poisoning, liver cancer and is associated with stunting and suppression of the immune system. It is estimated to cause about 100,000 cases of liver cancer per year and a world-wide loss of 1-2 million daily adjusted life years per year.