On our Scoop It between January 3rd and January 17th

These are links from our Scoop It page between January 3rd and January 17th:

The Archaeobotanist: African Archaeobotany 2011

A blog reviewing Dorian Fuller's archaeobotanical highlights of 2011. Africa, as a continent, remains one of the archaeobotanically least known and so it worth noting a number of contributions over the past year.

One of the best itegrated studies (from anywhere, not just Africa) of wood charcoal alongside seeds, pollen and other lines of evidence for the study of changing cultivation practices, including shifting cultivation in Burkino Faso by Hohn and Neumann, which is in press but on-line.

A important book released in 2011 was Marijke van der Veen's Consumption, Trade and Innovation, …

On the Horizon, Planes Powered by Plant Fuel

The use of jet fuel from renewable sources is now well demonstrated, but it costs more than double what fuel made from petroleum does, according to airlines, aircraft companies and suppliers. One way to cut the cost may be to tinker with the plants that biofuel is made from. Take jatropha, for example. Lufthansa said last week that it had completed a series of more than 800 flights by an Airbus A321 that shuttled between Hamburg and Frankfurt while burning a 50 percent biofuel mix in one of its two engines. The biofuel was derived partly from jatropha, a tropical shrub with an oil-rich nut, and it cost about two and a half times what ordinary petroleum-based fuel does.

Richard Jenkins from Madagascar

I was recently in Wales, back from Madagascar for a short visit. It was a time for reflection. My father died suddenly in August and I started sorting out some of my old belongings in my parents’ house. It made me wonder: “what made a boy from Llanelli commit himself to biodiversity conservation?”


Richard Jenkins on conserving the Madagascan rainforest.

European Wide Fascination of Plants Day May 18 2012

At its General Meeting in June, the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO) announced that it is now actively preparing the Europe-wide outreach and public dialogue activity called "The Fascination of Plants Day". The ultimate goal of this campaign is to approach as many European citizens (and those leaving elsewhere) as possible to emphasize the fascination of plants and the importance of plant science for agriculture (i.e. sustaining and improving food and feed in Europe), horticulture, forestry, providing as well non-food products (e.g. pulp and paper, timber, chemicals, energy, pharmaceuticals), and for environmental conservation. The "Fascination of Plants Day" will take place on Friday, May 18, 2012.

The sustainability of chocolate

People eat 3 billion pounds of chocolate every year. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao. But despite chocolate's popularity in the United States and Europe, the cacao plant is in trouble. This is due to current agricultural and fair trade practices, according to botanist Frank Almeda, senior curator at the California Academy of Sciences. The most common way of growing cacao is in a monoculture, like corn is grown, which makes plants much more susceptible to a plethora of diseases and pest infestations, says Dr Almeda. Making things worse, cacao farmers make less than one dollar a day, so cultivating cacao isn't even economically feasible, so farmers are abandoning their cacao plantations.

First plant to use buried leaves to catch worms found – life – 09 January 2012 – New Scientist

A sticky end awaits worms that stray too close to a scrawny-looking plant unique to Brazil. Philcoxia minensis is the first carnivorous plant discovered to trap and devour prey in the soil with the help of sticky leaves prodded below the surface.

What are the parts of a cell? Even a friendly alien could understand this! Kahn Academy Plantcellbiology.com

The Khan Academy is on a mission to provide free online educational resources for everyone, no matter if you are a student, teacher or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology”. With over 2700 videos available, they are doing very well! This blackboard-style video explains the different parts of a cell.

Sequencing Methods to Watch in 2012: The Fall of the Genome (and rise of bioinformatics)

Predicting what might happen next year in the field of next-generation sequencing may seem futile on the surface. Sequencing technology advances so rapidly these days that the predictions that might seem outlandish at the start of the year will appear to have been much too conservative by year’s end. But, your editors at BioTechniques are up to the challenge, and here we have assembled our predictions and thoughts on the world of next-generation sequencing in 2012 …

Data analysis dilemma. The volume of data generated using next-generation sequencing is mind boggling … it is clear that the data deluge will continue in the coming years and the need for computational biologists will grow (graduate students take note).

Roots, Tubers, and Bananas – CGIAR Research Program

Increasing rates of persistent hunger, continued population growth, and accelerating climate change are threatening the stability of world food systems. These global concerns demand a new scale of response. The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas is being created to bring together the research synergies, strengths, and resources from multiple organizations, focused on a key group of crops, to help address these challenges more globally and effi ciently.


Research has a vital role to play and must embrace a broad portfolio of commodities beyond the grain crops that have traditionally been the focus of food security initiatives. It is led by the International Potato Center (CIP), Bioversity International, the International Center for

Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and Agricultural Research for Development in Africa (IITA) and includes a wide spectrum of research-for-development stakeholders. This new collaboration, with its combined scale and capacity, will increase the ability to advance research, share knowledge, and enhance uptake to increase research and development impacts.
The program is devoted to achieving sustainable productivity increases for global food security.
Strategies to reduce the risk of food shortages and malnutrition must include increased yields and
stronger, more diversifi ed crop systems. The purpose of this program is to exploit the underutilized
potential of root, tuber, and banana crops for improving nutrition and food security. In addition, Roots,
Tubers, and Bananas aims to increase income generation, foster greater gender equity, and improve
livelihoods – especially among some of the world’s most poor and vulnerable populations.

The story of agriculture: make the global economy green

We need to make the global economy green. Agriculture provides significant opportunities for growth, investment and jobs to help make this happen. Everyone needs agriculture. Agriculture feeds our entire population and produces fibre for clothing, feed for livestock and bioenergy. Particularly in the developing world, agriculture contributes significantly to GDP growth, leads the way in poverty reduction and accounts for the lion's share of employment opportunities, especially for women. Agriculture also has one of the highest potentials for reducing carbon emissions and helping vulnerable people adapt to climate change.


Explore Farming First’s Infographic on the Green Economy
1 How can we feed future generations?

2 How can we reduce poverty around the world?

3 Why does agriculture matter to a green economy?

4 Where do we invest to build a green economy?

5 How can we build a more sustainable supply chain?

6 How can we manage environmental sustainability
with economic viability

(via Rodomiro Ortiz – thanks!)

The naming of names: new grass species honours Emeritus Professor — University of Leicester

Genetically important species identified and christened.


Brachypodium stacei
In the journal Annals of Botany, a paper on the grass Brachypodium distachyon has split the plant into three species, one of which has been christened Brachypodium stacei. The new paper by researchers in Spain, Germany, Poland and Aberystwyth lead by Pilar Catalán examined B. distachyon variants, finding different numbers of chromosomes. They determined that the plants with ten pairs of chromosomes were one distinct species, the plants with 20 pairs of chromosomes were another – and the plants with 30 pairs were a third species derived from a historical hybridisation between the first two.

From now on, B. distachyon will refer specifically to the ten-pair species while the 20-pair species will be B. stacei (the 30-pair species becomes B. hybridum).


The paper notes: "Species dedicated to Prof. Clive A. Stace, who initiated the systematic and evolutionary studies of Brachypodium." Professor Stace worked at the University of Leicester for more than thirty years, publishing the definitive catalogue of British plant species. One of our current Biology Professors, Pat Heslop-Harrison, is Chief Editor of the Annals of Botany and notes that this paper, published today, is historically important because it marks a sea-change in the way that new plant species are announced. Previously, any novel species had to be described in Latin and ‘publication’ was only considered valid in print journals. However, from 1 January 2012 there is a brave new world of flora taxonomy which allows descriptions in English and recognises online publication, critical to speed up cataloguing and measuring the diversity of plant life.

Appropriately enough, B. stacei is found in the extreme western range of the plant, mostly on the Balearic Isles where our biology undergraduates decamp each year for the ‘Island Biology and Speciation’ module field course. Now run by Dr John Bailey and Dr Richard Gornall, this course was initiated by Professor Stace so it is wonderfully appropriate that the next batch of students will actually be able to find samples of Brachypodium stacei in the wild.


Evolution and taxonomic split of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr294