Never mind orchids… asparagus?

Cool. Now there is evidence that orchids have been in existence since dinosaurs were running around the earth.

A 15-20 million year old bee has been discovered preserved in amber, with orchid pollen on its back. Apparently this helps end a certain amount of debate over how long orchids have been around:

Proponents of an older age for orchids had cited their ubiquity around the world, their close evolutionary kinship with the ancient asparagus family, and their bewildering diversity: Some 20,000 to 30,000 species strong, the showy plants comprise some 8 percent of all flowering species worldwide.

By applying the so-called molecular clock method, the scientists also estimated the age of the major branches of the orchid family. To their surprise, they found that certain groups of modern orchids, including the highly prized genus Vanilla, evolved very early during the rise of the plant family.

Smart, they are…

Once in a while I come across an article and it makes me think, "Damn! I should be blogging that."

Well, this is a good one. A serious article on plant intelligence, one that doesn’t involve 60’s flower power and fairies in the garden:

"…extraordinary new findings on how plants investigate and respond to
their environments are part of a sprouting debate over the nature of
intelligence itself."

and more,

"…the late Nobel Prize-winning plant geneticist Barbara McClintock called
plant cells "thoughtful." Darwin wrote about root-tip "brains." Not
only can plants communicate with each other and with insects by coded
gas exhalations, scientists say now, they can perform Euclidean
geometry calculations through cellular computations and, like a peeved
boss, remember the tiniest transgression for months."

Anyone who is an orchid enthusiast will nod along with the article and say, "yes, I knew that. I’m aware that those clever little buggers have me wrapped around their inflorescence." Kind of like a dog owner who knows, just knows, that their pooches have emotions. It doesn’t require a scientist to state the obvious, but it’s nice to have it validated anyway.

Full story:

New research opens a window on the minds of plants
– CSM March 3rd edition

Could they “bee” wrong?

65 million years ago, a giant asteroid hit Mexico and set off "nuclear winter" type climate conditions that is thought to have killed off the dinosaurs and most of life on earth.

Or so the story goes.

But if that’s the case, scientists are wondering how tropical honeybees managed to survive. It should have been too cold for them, and the flowers they survived on.

Was there a "nuclear winter", after all?

Continue reading “Could they “bee” wrong?”

Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World

Link: Plants do some very clever things.

Biologists are just now coming to the conclusion that plants are kind of intelligent, in a green growing thing kind of way:

To make smart choices, plant genes must take in multiple cues from their environment – light, temperature, moisture, gravity, etc. – and assemble them into a meaningful whole. That’s a rudimentary version of the way an animal’s brain integrates various signals from its eyes, ears, fingers and stomachs.

The article cites several examples of intelligent activity. I found this one kind of interesting:

When a plant is blown by the wind, flipped over or its roots are disturbed by an animal, specific genes responsible for keeping the plant stable” and roots growing respond very quickly, often within one minute of the disturbance…

I personally believe in talking to plants — I stand over mine in an intimidating manner and yell, “Grow!!! Grow!!!”. But after reading this article, I think I’ll give that up and just start blowing on them.

Continue reading “Brainy Behaviour in the Vegetable World”

Race for the True Blue Rose

Roses.are.Blue14 years of research.

27.8 million dollars

A cure for AIDS? Sub-Saharan diseases? Nope. We’re talking about a brewery. A japanese brewery, Suntory, who — according to their Web site — ‘…is Japan’s leading producer and distributor of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. We are also involved in pharmaceuticals, restaurant operation, sports, music and film, resort development, publishing, and information services.’

Oh yeah, and roses. Blue roses.

According to the Web site, Rugged Elegant Living (‘Your Guide to Healthy, Adventuresome, Soulful Living!’ — through genetic manipulation?), Suntory has been working on this project with Australian biotec venture Calgene Pacific since 1990. On July 5, 2004 they announced:

Suntory successfully created the blue rose by implanting the gene that leads to the synthesis of blue pigment in pansies. The color of the new rose comes entirely from the pigment Delphinidin, which does not exist in natural roses. …There are “bluish” roses on the market created through cross-breeding but the Sunroy rose is the first reported genuine blue rose.

Why would a brewer put all this effort into a developing a blue rose?

As a company in the food industry, we have developed businesses to enrich people’s lives. We have continued research and development activities for our flower operations because flowers adds flavors to people’s lives and help sustain spiritual health.

The flowers are expected to be available for purchase in 2007 or 2008.

Do gooders, my ass. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the estimated $64 million US share of the market annually that the elusive “blue” rose is expected to capture.

As though this story weren’t bizarre enough, Britain’s news giant The Telegraph announced back in late May that two biochemists conducting research into drugs for cancer and Alzheimer’s in Tennessee discovered a liver enzyme that, when moved into a bacterium, would turn it blue.

Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr Elizabeth Gillam, part of a cabal of scientists heroically participating in the single-minded quest for a cure to the 20th century plague, had this to say:

We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years.

Dr Gillam had the bright idea that we could capitalise on our discovery by moving the gene into plants – and produce a blue rose.

I suppose you can’t separate the spiritual from the physical when it comes to good health. I think they all deserve a medal.

Here Lies Jacob Orchidgrower…

I love Aaron J. Hicks’ response to a question posed on the Native Orchid Conference list about re-introducing orchids using seed that does not come from the local area:

“…what is the concern with integrating with local populations? I guess my question is, what does “local” mean? Same county, same state, same acre?”

Aaron replies:

I would define “local” as populations that are reasonably capable of exchanging genetic material in the absence of human interference. …as you increase the distance, the probability of exchange drops dramatically. So, this is not to say that a seed from a given cypripedium might not end up germinating 100 miles away, but the chances are slim.

Reasonably, as these plants are not capable of producing any tangible products, the only objections that I can think of would be that this sort of thing runs the risk of bewildering molecular phylogenists in the future. (“Bert, we just found identical genes in isolates of Cypripedium californicum from Oregon and Michigan. That hangs it- I quit!”) There are also concerns about contamination of the gene pool, reduction of genetic diversity, preservation of subspecies, that sort of thing. After all, evolution occurs more quickly in small, isolated populations. Still, I don’t think there is a significant risk of going to the grave with “Here Lies Jacob Orchidgrower, who singlehandedly prevented the birth of a new species. Nice going, Jacob” as their epitaph.

Now, if you want to throw some REAL mud into your soda, we have to go back a few years while glaciers were still roaming the country (before the great North American Anti-Glaciation Act of 13,000 BC), when just about everything was covered with a sheet of ice as thick as Paris Hilton’s skull. After the retreat of the glaciers, it’s a fair guess that there wasn’t much of anything alive that didn’t have legs for some time. Whether this makes for a good argument as to whether we should go about shuffling the genes is open to discussion.

All these considerations are theoretical. To the best of my knowledge, nobody’s ever come up with cogent arguments as to why it’s *bad* to re-introduce extirpated species (at least those that are innocuous and benign, like orchids- let’s just skip the whole wolf thing for now, shall we?), and I’d say the benefits outweigh the detractions.

Aaron J. Hicks