The full title of Mary Shelley’s acclaimed 1818 novel “Frankenstein” is “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”. Well, fictional frightening-fellow fabricator Dr Frankenstein may have been the modern Prometheus of his day, but I’ve just chanced upon the 21st century version. Nothing to do with hard-copy science fiction of the late Georgian period, this truly modern Prometheus is science fact-based and exists virtually as an on-line Wiki (“a server program that allows users to collaborate in forming the content of a Web site”).
As befits the current obsession with initialisms, this Prometheus is a sort of acronym that stands for PROtocols, METHods, Explanations and Updated Standards in ecological and environmental plant physiology. Launched in 2010, it is ‘A unique web resource for physiology, ecology and the environmental sciences’. Its four main categories are Sensing and environment, Structure, Function, and Experimental design and analysis, with each having several sub-categories and still lower level categories that contain the promethean items of the wiki’s name.
To illustrate how this categorisation works – and in an attempt to boost a technique that is simple to use, requires little specialist equipment, is cheap, and can generate a tremendous amount of in-sight [you’ll see why I’ve chosen to present that word in this way shortly – I hope…] into plant biology – let’s look in more detail at the Structure category. Its four sub-categories are Anatomy and Microscopy, Architecture, Morphology, and Reproductive traits.
Entering the first of those (well, what did you expect from one who is officially described as Senior Lecturer in Physiological Plant Anatomy..?), we have a summary of the microscopic techniques by Contributing Editors Brendan Choat and Steven Jensen, and the list of lower level topics: Anatomical image analysis, Anatomical sectioning, and Tissue preparation, fixation, and embedding.
Selecting the second of those we reach the Protocols area, currently eight in total. Choosing ‘Making hand sections without support material’ we have detailed instructions for obtaining sections of plant material just using a double-edged razor blade, contributed by Rosemary White. And – usefully! – photomicrographs that reveal what can be achieved by this basic procedure (and one of which shows lateral roots ‘trapped’ within the cortex of an aerenchymatous rice root – is this a first sighting of this phenomenon?).*
There’s lots more to explore and discover (whether you’re into plant microstructure or other things!), but I’d thought I’d give this hand-sectioning technique an airing since it is a great way to get students looking at plant anatomy and making their own discoveries – and is great for student projects… And, remember, they are the first person ever (ever, ever!) to have looked at that particular piece of plant that they’ve sectioned with their own razor-assisted hands! What better thrill is there in botany than that?
Anyway, since this site was a new discovery for me, I’d thought it might also be unknown to some of this Blog’s readers, hence this mention. It’s certainly well worth exploring to see what useful protocols or methods might be there for your own exploitation (and which are free to use), or for you to consider supplementing with your own words of wisdom. Whilst it’s not the only free site that offers protocols, etc.** , it’s one of the few dedicated to plant science so ought to offer more appropriately tailored solutions to your methodolobotanical queries.
* To further promote this technique, do also look at Peterson et al.’s Teaching plant anatomy through creative laboratory exercises, Kraehmer and Baur’s Weed Anatomy and Yeung et al.’s Plant Microtechniques and Protocol.