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December 30, 2010, 6:43 AM CT

Genetic relationship between Hungarian and Turkish apricots

Genetic relationship between Hungarian and Turkish apricots
Scientists have produced evidence of a genetic and historical connection between popular apricots cultivars.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Julia Halasz

Apricots are important to Turkey, the country where more apricot crops are grown and exported than anywhere in the world. Looking to unlock the mystery of apricots' origins and increase crop production, researchers are studying the genetic relationship between apricot varieties. New research from a team of Hungarian and Turkish researchers has confirmed the genetic link between Turkish and Hungarian apricot cultivars, yielding information that provides valuable data for apricot growers and breeders.

It is widely believed that apricots originated in China, arriving in Europe through central Asia and Asia Minor. Apricot cultivars are classified into four major eco-geographical groups: central Asian, Irano-Caucasian, European, and Dzhungar-Zailing. The central Asian and Irano-Caucasian (including Turkish cultivars) groups show the richest diversity, while the European group�including cultivars grown in North America, Australia, and South Africa�is believed to be the least diverse. Apricots from eastern European cultivars have clearly distinguished characteristics from other cultivars of European origin. Eventhough a number of studies have been done on Turkish apricots, there remains uncertainty about the self-incompatibility genotypes for a number of Turkish cultivars.

A team of scientists from the Corvinus University of Budapest and Ataturk University and the Malatya Fruit Research Institute in Turkey published a study in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science that confirms an evolutionary theory. "Microsatellite analyses have suggested that Hungarian and European apricot cultivars might have originated through hybridization among Irano-Caucasian genotypes", said corresponding author J�lia Hal�sz. This assumption seems to be confirmed by historical and linguistic evidence; during the Ottoman occupation of Hungary numerous records documented the introduction of Turkish graft-wood and other propagation materials to Hungary.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


December 29, 2010, 6:44 AM CT

Genome sequence could make finest chocolate better

Genome sequence could make finest chocolate better
Cacao flowers on tree
The production of high quality chocolate, and the farmers who grow it, will benefit from the recent sequencing and assembly of the chocolate tree genome, as per an international team led by Claire Lanaud of CIRAD, France, with Mark Guiltinan of Penn State, and including researchers from 18 other institutions.

The team sequenced the DNA of a variety of Theobroma cacao, considered to produce the world's finest chocolate. The Maya domesticated this variety of Theobroma cacao, Criollo, about 3,000 years ago in Central America, and it is one of the oldest domesticated tree crops. Today, a number of growers prefer to grow hybrid cacao trees that produce chocolate of lower quality but are more resistant to disease.

"Fine cocoa production is estimated to be less than 5 percent of the world cocoa production because of low productivity and disease susceptibility," said Guiltinan, professor of plant molecular biology.

The scientists report in the current issue of Nature Genetics "consumers have shown an increased interest for high-quality chocolate made with cocoa of good quality and for dark chocolate, containing a higher percentage of cocoa, while also taking into account environmental and ethical criteria for cocoa production".

Currently, most cacao farmers earn about $2 per day, but producers of fine cacao earn more. Increasing the productivity and ease of growing cacao can help to develop a sustainable cacao economy. The trees are now also seen as an environmentally beneficial crop because they grow best under forest shade, allowing for land rehabilitation and enriched biodiversity.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


December 29, 2010, 6:18 AM CT

Improving greenhouse, plant microclimates

Improving greenhouse, plant microclimates
study in HortTechnology featured a new technology that improved greenhouse climates by reducing solar heat radiation and temperatures during the hot summer season. The study, published by a team of Canadian researchers, was the first investigation into the effects of application of the liquid foam technology as a shading method. Results showed that the technology improved greenhouse and plant microclimates and decreased air temperature more than conventional shading curtains traditionally used by greenhouse growers.

Excess temperature, solar radiation, and high vapor pressure deficit are major greenhouse concerns during the summer season. These extreme conditions increase plant stress and decrease crop productivity and fruit quality. Methods such as cooling pads and fogging systems have been used to prevent plant heat stress during the day, and various shading techniques are often used by growers to decrease solar radiation and reduce air and leaf temperatures. Shade cloths reduce the amount of solar energy entering the greenhouse and consequently decreased air temperature by partially cutting the heat portion of the solar radiation, but this incoming energy commonly contains more than 50% heat (infrared radiation), which is not useful for plant growth in the summer.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


December 29, 2010, 6:13 AM CT

Solutions to common pear disease

Solutions to common pear disease
Diseases caused by a species of fungus called Phytophthora syringae are responsible for significant economic losses on a wide range of plants, including pear. In the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, disease occurs during the winter in nursery stock, particularly on trees that are harvested and stored in coolers or in outdoor sawdust beds. Recent field observations by growers suggest that increased nitrogen content in nursery trees resulting from foliar sprays with urea in the autumn increases tree susceptibility to infection by Phytophthora syringae The results of new research suggest the relationship between tree susceptibility to P. syringae and tree nitrogen concentration appears to be specific to the form of nitrogen, delivery method, or timing of nitrogen applications.

Scientists from Oregon State University's Department of Horticulture and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service published a study in HortTechnology that contains new answers for nursery operators. The experiments investigated the effects of soil nitrogen (N) availability and spraying pear trees with combinations of urea, chelated copper ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (CuEDTA), and phosphonate-containing fungicides on stem N concentration and susceptibility to infection by P. syringae........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


December 29, 2010, 6:09 AM CT

Willow cut-stem growers surveyed

Willow cut-stem growers surveyed
The showy catkins of willow are popular cut stems for off-season production.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Julia Kuzovkina

Woody ornamental plants with colorful or uncommonly shaped stems, buds, flowers, or fruits represent a growing specialty niche in cut flower production markets. These unique plants can be good prospects for off-season production, offering distinct benefits such as extended growing seasons, respectable financial returns, hardiness, and the ability to produce multiple harvests from single plantings.

A research team from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut recently published the results of a poll of North American willow "cut stem" producers. The study was designed to identify willow growers' profiles, production acreages, and gross sales, to evaluate consistency in production practices, and to assess the prospective market value for crop expansion. As per Yulia A. Kuzovkina, corresponding author of the study, the potential exists to significantly expand the consumer market for woody cut stems, but until recently "woody floral crops have received little formal research attention to determine the best cultural practices for optimal yields".

Willow is among the most popular woody plant used in cut stem production operations; species and varieties exhibit a range of unique ornamental attributes, including showy catkins, brightly colored stems, and contorted, or "fasciated", stems. Willows are typically harvested during the late winter months when few plants are available for field production in temperate climates. Cash returns for willow growers can range from $1.25-1.75 per stem for species harvested for ornamental catkins, and annual gross financial returns for willow plants�reported at up to $24.94 per plant�are much higher than for a number of other woody florals.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


December 7, 2010, 7:37 AM CT

Key to Improving World Grape Production

Key to Improving World Grape Production
Walter Gassmann, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and associate professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
In a few years, a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir may include a taste of the "Show-Me" State. The state grape of Missouri - the Norton variety grown at a number of vineyards around the state - is resistant to powdery mildew, a fungal pathogen that affects winemaking grapes around the world. Now, scientists at the University of Missouri are working to identify valuable genes from the Norton grape for eventual transfer into other grapes to make them less susceptible to mildew, decrease fungicide use and increase world-wide grape production.

"The hot, humid environment of Missouri is perfect for the growth of fungal pathogens, such as mildew, yet Norton resists the fungus," said Walter Gassmann, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and associate professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "Understanding what makes Norton resistant to fungus, and European varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, susceptible to fungus, can help us improve grape production around the world."

Scientists say the difference between the Norton grape and other varieties is that the Norton grape builds more of a certain protein that is essential to fight fungal pathogens than other grape varieties, which build too little of the protein too late to successfully battle the fungus. Earlier research has discovered the gene that contains the blueprint for this protein present in both Norton grapes and other varieties that cannot resist the mildew. Gassmann is conducting research on the fast-growing Arabidopsis plant, which features a gene similar to the targeted grape gene. His team added the grapevine gene to an Arabidopsis plant that was lacking its own gene. Adding the grapevine gene led to plants that resisted the mildew, confirming that the grapevine gene is responsible for orchestrating plant defenses against mildew. The next step in this research is to figure out what in the genetic instructions is different in Norton and other grapevine varieties that leads to the observed difference in protein levels in resistant Norton and susceptible grapevines.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


November 12, 2010, 7:19 AM CT

Invading weed threatens devastation

Invading weed threatens devastation
A new field study confirms that an invasive weed called medusahead has growth advantages over most other grass species, suggesting it will continue to spread across much of the West, disrupt native ecosystems and make millions of acres of grazing land almost worthless.

The research, by researchers from Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service, was one of the most comprehensive studies ever done that compared the "relative growth rate" of this invasive annual grass to that of other competing species in natural field conditions.

It observed that medusahead has a faster growth rate, a longer period of growth and produced more total biomass even than cheatgrass - another invading species that is a major problem in its own right, but not as devastating as medusahead.

"Medusahead is now spreading at about 12 percent a year over 17 western states," said Seema Mangla, a researcher in the OSU College of Forestry. "Once established, it's very hard to get rid of. It displaces native grasses and even other invasive species that animals can still eat. Unless we do more to stop it, medusahead will take over much of the native grassland in the West.

"This is a devil species," she said.

Research is identifying some other grass species, including crested wheatgrass and Sandberg's bluegrass, that appears to be able to compete with medusahead, reduce its spread and preserve the grazing value of lands, Mangla said. They are also studying new ways of restoring medusahead-infested areas. But so far, medusahead has received very little attention in comparison to other threats such as cheatgrass, even though it ultimately poses a far greater threat to ecosystems across the West.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


Wed, 10 Nov 2010 12:55:32 GMT

The social life of plants

The social life of plants
Did you see this article in the NYT yesterday? (Warning-registration may be required.) Canadian researchers are examining the ability of plants to distinguish members of its own species from “outsiders.” Last summer scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario published a study on the sea rocket (Cakile edentula), a native member of the mustard (Brassicacaea) family that grows above the high tide line on sandy beaches.

Yet scientists have found evidence that the sea rocket is able to do something that no other plant has ever been shown to do.

The sea rocket, researchers report, can distinguish between plants that are related to it and those that are not. And not only does this plant recognize its kin, but it also gives them preferential treatment.

If the sea rocket detects unrelated plants growing in the ground with it, the plant aggressively sprouts nutrient-grabbing roots. But if it detects family, it politely restrains itself.

The finding is a surprise, even a bit of a shock, in part because most animals have not even been shown to have the ability to recognize relatives, despite the huge advantages in doing so.

If an individual can identify kin, it can help them, an evolutionarily sensible act because relatives share some genes. The same discriminating organism could likewise ramp up nasty behavior against unrelated individuals with which it is most sensible to be in claws- or perhaps thorns-bared competition.

Pretty cool that sea rocket can distinguish between its family members! (That’s a photo of it at right.) Dr. Dudley and his colleagues have since then discovered evidence that three other species can do the same thing, but in different ways.

Plants" social life may have remained mysterious for so long because, as researchers have seen in studies of species like sagebrush, strawberries and thornapples, the ways plants sense can be quite different from the ways in which animals do.

Some plants, for example, have been shown to sense potentially competing neighboring plants by subtle changes in light. That is because plants absorb and reflect particular wavelengths of sunlight, creating signature shifts that other plants can detect.

Reserachers also studied a certain parasitic weed called dodder (genus Cuscuta, absolutely terrible vampire-like plant, maybe I’ll do a post on it one day). Dodder can “sense” chemicals released in the air by nearby plants and use it to “sniff out” its victim:

Scientists also find plants exhibiting ways to gather information on other plants from chemicals released into the soil and air. A parasitic weed, dodder, has been found to be particularly keen at sensing such chemicals.

Dodder is unable to grow its own roots or make its own sugars using photosynthesis, the process used by nearly all other plants. As a result, scientists knew that after sprouting from seed, the plant would fairly quickly need to begin growing on and into another plant to extract the nutrients needed to survive.

But even the scientists studying the plant were surprised at the speed and precision with which a dodder seedling could sense and hunt its victim. In time-lapse movies, scientists saw dodder sprouts moving in a circular fashion, in what they discovered was a sampling of the airborne chemicals released by nearby plants, a bit like a dog sniffing the air around a dinner buffet.

Then, using just the hint of the smells and without having touched another plant, the dodder grew toward its preferred victim. That is, the dodder reliably sensed and attacked the species of plant, from among the choices nearby, on which it would grow best.

"When you see the movies, you very much have this impression of it being like behavior, animal behavior," said Dr. Consuelo M. De Moraes, a chemical ecologist at Pennsylvania State University who was on the team studying the plant. "It"s like a little worm moving toward this other plant."

The movie that she’s referring to? YOU HAVE TO SEE IT! Go to the NYT article link and scroll down until you see the link for the movie. It’s worth getting an account to see it if you don’t have one (it’s free). The movie a time-lapse of a dodder seedling putting the moves on a tomato plant that it’s in the pot with it. (A still from the movie is at the top of the page). It truly looks like it’s sniffing the tomato plant out as it looks for its next victim.

Plants sure is crazy peoples!

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES

Posted by: Caroline Brown      Read more     Source


November 9, 2010, 10:57 PM CT

Improving Soil for Better Lawns

Improving Soil for Better Lawns
ARS scientists are developing replacement subsoils and topsoils to build rain gardens and better and less-costly sports fields and lawns on compacted or otherwise degraded soils. Click the image for more information about it.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers in West Virginia are finding ways to improve soil on degraded land so it can be used for sports fields and other uses.

Scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the agency's Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center (AFSRC) in Beaver, W.Va., are in the process of developing constructed or replacement subsoils and topsoils to build better and less-costly sports fields, raingardens and lawns on former landfills, mine lands and other degraded land. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

The constructed soil research project is in its fourth year. ARS is conducting the research in cooperation with the National Turfgrass Research Initiative, Inc., a joint turfgrass industry-ARS program created in 2007. The initiative draws on the expertise of researchers with ARS and at universities, as per lead scientist Rich Zobel at AFSRC.

The turfgrass industry has set a high priority on improving degraded soils by constructing soils that include readily available rural, urban and industrial byproducts that can be mixed with local soils. These byproduct mixes are being tailored to not only reduce rain runoff and erosion, but also to remove or neutralize pollutants before they reach storm drains.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source


October 22, 2010, 7:50 AM CT

Plants Cleaning up Air Pollution

Plants Cleaning up Air Pollution
Poplars, aspens, other trees provide extensive "ecosystem services."

Credit: USDA
Vegetation plays an unexpectedly large role in cleansing the atmosphere, a newly released study finds.

The research, led by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., uses observations, gene expression studies, and computer modeling to show that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a common class of air-polluting chemicals than previously thought.

The newly released study, results of which are being published this week in Science Express, was conducted with co-authors from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Arizona. It was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.

"Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized," says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the main author. "They actively consume certain types of air pollution".

The research team focused on a class of chemicals known as oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs), which can have long-term impacts on the environment and human health.

"The team has made significant progress in understanding the complex interactions between plants and the atmosphere," says Anne-Marie Schmoltner of NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.........

Posted by: Erica      Read more         Source

   

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