Published on August 1, an article in The New York Times called “How Woody Vines Do the Twist” put a spotlight on former rLab member Joyce Chery. Now a very-soon-to-be-professor at Cornell University, Joyce studies woody vines, known as lianas, in an attempt to understand the fundamental question of how plants evolved the ability to climb.
Over the course of her research, Joyce has identified five different ways in which the lianas of the maple family, Sapindaceae, can develop. These newly described developmental programs deviate from the typical stem development of trees and shrubs, and result in mature plants with irregular configurations of their water and sugar conducting cells.
Through careful anatomical study, Joyce realized that all of the unusual mature wood types developmentally trace back to the same modification that occurs during early plant development. Instead of the expected circular stem with equally distributed vascular tissue that is found in most trees, in these lianas, the early plant stem is star shaped with clumps of cells, or vascular bundles, distributed unevenly. By placing development into a phylogenetic context, it was additionally revealed that the novel star-shaped young plant is also the evolutionary precursor to all forms of irregular wood formation.
As stated in the article, discovering the structure of lianas is an important step in understanding their ability to outmaneuver trees and sometimes become overabundant — something that can affect the storage of carbon in a forest.
In addition to being able to read this article online, a version of the story appears in the August 4 print edition of The New York Times.
Mike has been hard at work this summer and has recently published a paper in the ever-glossy Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Titled “A hierarchical Bayesian mixture model for inferring the expression state of genes in transcriptomes,” the paper explores transcriptomes — the set of genes expressed in any given tissue, and the key to understanding the relationship between genotype and phenotype.
Along with his coauthors, Mike has developed a Bayesian mixture model that describes the biological processes that give rise to transcriptomes. As the paper states, this will allow researchers to obtain the expression state of genes from replicate transcriptomic datasets.
Congratulations, Mike, on this big accomplishment!
New lab arrival David drives cross-country to Berkeley
As of late July, rlab’s newest member, graduate student David Adelhelm, has arrived in sunny Berkeley, California — though that may not be the way he thinks of it, hailing from the Sunshine State itself. Before leaving Florida on a cross-country road trip with his father, David reports that the temperatures were already surpassing 90 degrees in Orlando.
On the way to the Bay, they hit up a few major landmarks. First up: the Sandia Mountains just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. After a 10 minutes cable car ride up to the base of the mountain, they hiked around the montane forests, reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet.
Their next big stop was at the Kelso Dunes near Kingman, Arizona. Leaving Kingman around 4:00 a.m., David and his dad were able to catch the sunrise on their hike up the massive sand dunes — an experience David thoroughly recommends.
Finally, they stopped at Big Sur, where David said he mostly wandered around taking pictures of ferns (see photos below).
But David also says the trip was tougher than he expected — the longest distance covered in a day was the 1100 miles between New Orleans, Louisiana and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and David jokes that the experience of driving 100 miles without seeing anyone has caused him to rethink his plans in the event of a zombie apocalypse (it now involves a bunker in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert). However, David thankfully did not have to execute on that blueprint and is now settling into his new apartment. Cheers to his safe arrival and his new home in the Rothfels Lab!
Last week, The New York Times published an article about moss in the Mojave Desert — and none other than Jenna Ekwealor from UC Berkeley’s Bryolab was behind it.
The research was first published by Jenna and Dr. Kirsten Fisher from California State University, Los Angeles in PLoS One and details the pair’s recent find: moist, green moss in the middle of a dry desert.
Usually the desert moss species Syntrichia caninervis exists in a parched state, dried up and awaiting the next desert rainstorm. But growing underneath pebbles of milky quartz, S. caninervis was able to flourish despite the desert’s usually harsh conditions. The underside of these rocks provides a space where moisture can persist for longer than usual and where the intense radiation from the sun is moderated.
Another species of moss, Tortula inermis, also relies on the pebbles for protection, in this case, from the cold winter temperatures in the Mojave Desert — sometimes as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys and zero degrees at the highest elevations.
At the end of the day, Jenna’s research highlights a fascinating microenvironment that was previously unnoticed by scientists. As stated in the story from The New York Times, though these moss growths are small, they still have the ability to affect carbon cycling and soil conservation.