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New information obtained on the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

New information obtained about the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

It was a historic moment for China when it’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon on the 3rd of January 2019. It became the first spacecraft to visit this area of the moon. It also carried a 2.6kg mini-biosphere known as the Lunar Micro Ecosystem. 

This biosphere measures 18cm in length and 16cm in diameter. It took six lifeforms in conditions simulating Earth except for lunar radiation and micro-gravity. The six lifeforms include cotton seeds, potato seeds, yeast, fruit fly eggs, rapeseeds, and Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed. 

This is the first biological growth experiment to be conducted on the Moon. The cotton seeds gave positive results. 

It took in January 2019 when the lander reached the Moon. The team thought that there was one leaf but the data shows there were two instead. A 3D reconstructed image based on image processing and data analysis shows very clearly two leaves. However, no other organism produced any result. 

The LME was not heated, so after the first lunar day or 14 Earth days, the cotton sprout died since the temperature dropped down to negative 190 Celsius. The experiment however continued for testing the longevity. 

Xie Gengxin is the leader of the experiment from the Technology Research Institute, Chongqing University. No papers are to be published based on this experiment. There were initial plans of sending a tortoise to the moon however it was prevented by the mission constraints. 

Xie said in an interview that it was due to the weight constraint as it could not exceed more than three kilograms on the Chang’e-4 probe. It would have been torture for the tortoise since it would have died with the temperature drop along with oxygen running out in 20 days. The first tortoises in space were two tortoises carried by the Zond 5 mission of the Soviet Union in 1968. Plants and fruit flies were also carried but the tortoises were not provided any food. They were starved but they made it to Earth alive. 

Xie and his group are looking to the next Moon mission as they hope to send more lifeforms. They would send complex life forms according to the payload of the mission. China has planned Chang’e-6, a return mission to the Moon in the mid-2020s. China sent out invitations for international partners for involvement in the additional 10kg of payload the mission in 2018. Chang’e-6 is a backup to Chang’e-5 which is meant to be the first sample return mission for China. 

Many other nations are planning for these lunar biological experiments such as India, the United States, Russia, Japan along with private companies. With long-duration visits to Moon in the future, researchers will study the responses of other organisms to that environment, besides humans. 

 

New software helps plant breeders bring out their best

New software helps plant breeders bring out their best

Broccoli is in the eye of the beholder.

A head of broccoli that might appeal to one person – perhaps because of its deep green color – may leave another cold, due to an asymmetrical shape or too-large buds.

Cornell researchers participating in the Eastern Broccoli Project, which aims to produce broccoli varieties suited to grow on the East Coast, have devised a statistical method to standardize evaluations of broccoli, in order to make plant breeding decisions more consistent and efficient.

Now a Cornell group – doctoral student Zachary Stansell; Thomas Björkman, professor of horticulture at Cornell AgriTech; and Deniz Akdemir of the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit – has released RateRvaR, a new software based on this method. RateRvaR is freely available, open source, easy to use and applicable to breeders of any vegetable, tree or flower with subjective features.

Using the software, breeders can select traits and ask multiple people to perform the same evaluation. The program will then analyze that data to determine which traits are more or less important in predicting overall quality, partly by prioritizing traits that are easier to judge objectively, such as size or color.

“The challenge for breeders, when they’re looking for wider adaptations, is that for certain crops, you plant all over the place and fly to various locations around the world to do the evaluations yourself,” Björkman said.

“But what if you had to check the plant twice a week for a month because it’s maturing at different rates? You can’t be jetting around the world; it just becomes impractical,” he said. “Breeders want to know not only how another person would score a plant, but how they would score it themselves, or how some idealized consumer would score it. This should open up the opportunity for breeders to do evaluations in multiple locations.”

The software can also identify traits that don’t seem relevant to the overall quality, so breeders can collect less data and still get accurate results.

“This approach can standardize evaluations and make them faster and more efficient, and it can also reveal individual biases in how a human might respond to a particular variety of a vegetable or plant,” Stansell said. “In the case of broccoli, we wanted to take the human subjectivity out of these evaluations, and this method allows us to see those biases and correct for them.”

Researchers in the Eastern Broccoli Project grow at least 40 varieties of broccoli a year, aiming to find varieties that will thrive in particular climates, from Florida in the winter to Maine in the summer. Their goal is not only to breed plants well-suited to local climates, but to produce high-quality broccoli consumers will buy.

But Stansell noticed he and his colleagues often had very different criteria for judging broccoli plants. He tended to choose heads that were very symmetrical, while another researcher was more interested in the head’s color.

Not only were their preferences inconsistent, it wasn’t even clear if they were truly significant in predicting the overall quality of the plant – a stubbornly subjective characterization.

“We were trying to get a firm hold on what is good-quality broccoli – you know it when you see it but it’s hard to define accurately,” Stansell said. “There are a lot of moving parts genetically that have to come together.”

With colleagues, he then created a scoring system and collected years’ worth of data on the traits they considered significant. They used this data to develop RateRvaR, which is based on relative importance analysis, a statistical technique that calculates the importance of different qualities in relation to each other.

“It showed us which traits we had an opportunity to make a lot of progress with, and which traits didn’t really matter,” Stansell said. “It also allowed us to develop priorities. For example, the shape of the head is really important, whereas maybe the size of the buds is less important, so we should focus on head shape and use our scarce time and resources to try to improve this particular aspect.”

Materials provided by Cornell University

Scientists discover how plants breathe – and how humans shaped their 'lungs'

Scientists discover how plants breathe and how humans shaped their ‘lungs’

Botanists have known since the 19th century that leaves have pores – called stomata – and contain an intricate internal network of air channels. But until now it wasn’t understood how those channels form in the right places in order to provide a steady flow of CO2 to every plant cell.

The new study, led by scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food and published in Nature Communications, used genetic manipulation techniques to reveal that the more stomata a leaf has, the more airspace it forms. The channels act like bronchioles – the tiny passages that carry air to the exchange surfaces of human and animal lungs.

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Nottingham and Lancaster University, they showed that the movement of CO2 through the pores most likely determines the shape and scale of the air channel network.

This major discovery shows that the movement of air through leaves shapes their internal workings – which has implications for the way we think about evolution in plants.

Professor Andrew Fleming

Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield

The discovery marks a major step forward in our understanding of the internal structure of a leaf, and how the function of tissues can influence how they develop – which could have ramifications beyond plant biology, in fields such as evolutionary biology.

The study also shows that wheat plants have been bred by generations of people to have fewer pores on their leaves and fewer air channels, which makes their leaves more dense and allows them to be grown with less water.

This new insight highlights the potential for scientists to make staple crops like wheat even more water-efficient by altering the internal structure of their leaves. This approach is being pioneered by other scientists at the Institute for Sustainable Food, who have developed climate-ready rice and wheat which can survive extreme drought conditions.

Professor Andrew Fleming from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield said: “Until now, the way plants form their intricate patterns of air channels has remained surprisingly mysterious to plant scientists.

“This major discovery shows that the movement of air through leaves shapes their internal workings – which has implications for the way we think about evolution in plants.

“The fact that humans have already inadvertently influenced the way plants breathe by breeding wheat that uses less water suggests we could target these air channel networks to develop crops that can survive the more extreme droughts we expect to see with climate breakdown.”

Dr Marjorie Lundgren, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Lancaster University, said: “Scientists have suspected for a long time that the development of stomata and the development of air spaces within a leaf are coordinated. However, we weren’t really sure which drove the other. So this started as a ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ question.

“Using a clever set of experiments involving X-ray CT image analyses, our collaborative team answered these questions using species with very different leaf structures. While we show that the development of stomata initiates the expansion of air spaces, we took it one step further to show that the stomata actually need to be exchanging gases in order for the air spaces to expand. This paints a much more interesting story, linked to physiology.”

The X-ray imaging work was undertaken at the Hounsfield Facility at the University of Nottingham. The Director of the Facility, Professor Sacha Mooney, said: “Until recently the application of X-ray CT, or CAT scanning, in plant sciences has mainly been focused on visualising the hidden half of the plant – the roots – as they grow in soil.

“Working with our partners in Sheffield we have now developed the technique to visualize the cellular structure of a plant leaf in 3D – allowing us to see how the complex network of air spaces inside the leaf controls its behavior. It’s very exciting.”

Materials provided by the University of Sheffield