#26 Plants Grown on the Moon, Coral Reefs making Waves and Algae Gene Secrets...
Coral reef cilia making currents, cress grown on lunar dust provides hope for plants on the moon as well as algae genes providing growth and health insights...
Coral Reefs - Current Creators
Cilia on coral reefs found to generate currents…
‘Coral’ are actually made of hundreds to thousands of tiny coral creatures named polyps. Each secretes a calcium carbonate skeleton to create the elaborate structures we famously see and know. A team of researchers has found that the cilia on these coral reef polyps can generate horizontal currents that are used to transport mucus across the surface of a reef. Adameyko and his colleagues conducted their research on corals in the Caribbean and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Research prior to these new findings has already indicated that polyps create vertical currents with the function of removing microbes that could cause harm and other debris away from the coral surface. The researchers went on to say how this discovery was an accident, through recording data for another project. “This study really came out of the blue. We were originally adding fluorescent beads to coral surfaces for another experiment and noticed they started to move in an interesting way,” says Igor Adameyko at the Medical University of Vienna.
The researchers went on to place these fluorescent beads on other corals, resulting in more movement across the surface of the coral in “interesting ways”. Through adding black beads to the coral surface they were able to video the action and so further allowing them to create models of the movement, as well as study the interactions of other particles suspended in the water.
The model suggested that the polyps “shared” food with neighbouring polyps. It is currently believed that these horizontal currents hold the purpose of simply coordinating food distribution across all the polyps located on a coral or reef. Lessening the competition between polyps would likely benefit the coral as a whole.
The researchers went on to say how more work is required to validate any conclusions drawn as well as any clues as to how corals could be sheltered or preserved in the battle against climate change. However, further work is needed to confirm the polyps really do benefit nutritionally from these currents, as this study only assessed the flow of non-edible particles, rather than food.
🌿Algae Gene Insights
Unlocked mysteries of plant health and growth…
Through using algal mutants a research team was able to analyse a number of datasets to learn the function of hundreds of algal genes. Scientists and researchers are often unaware of the function of many genes. A Princeton and Stanford University study has revealed the functions of hundreds of genes in a species of green algae. Due to their biological similarity, many of these genes are also present in plants. Several of the genes discovered have counterparts in plants with the same role. This suggests that the algal data can help scientists understand how these genes function and work in plants.
Robert Jinkerson, assistant professor at UC Riverside said that “A common way to learn more about biology is to mutate genes and then see how that affects the organism.” As a whole, plant and algae genetics are understudied and so we have a relatively poor understanding on a group of organisms that are so integral to life as we know it. Through breakthrough studies into the genetics of algae, such as these, hopefully biotechnology and future efforts in genetically engineering algae for biofuel production as well as other applications will increase. Applications within modified algae could have a huge impact in key areas such as conservation and climate change.
Analysing millions of data points allowed the research team to better understand the functional role of otherwise unknown genes as well as discovering many new functions of previously known genes. These genes could have a variety of functions including heat stress response, predator response and roles in photosynthesis.
High throughput methods such as those used in this study, can be used to analyse tens of thousands of mutants very quickly. Through the utilisation of this method the research team generated over 60,000 mutants of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (A single celled green algae). One of the reasons that this species was selected is due to its close relations to plants. The research team then subjected the mutants to over 120 different treatments resulting in 16.8 million data points. With each mutant having a unique DNA barcode, the team could “read” to see how the mutant was responding to a different environmental stress condition.
The team discovered a variety of results such as the 38 genes that caused problems relating to using energy from light, when disrupted, indicating that these genes played a key role in photosynthesis. Another cluster was then discovered to protect the algae from toxins that inhibit the growth of the species cytoskeleton. Furthermore, these genes are also present in plants and the discovery could be key in helping plants grow in a wider variety of conditions, to greater levels of success.
“The data and knowledge generated in this study is already being leveraged to engineer algae to make more biofuels and to improve environmental stress tolerance in crops,” said Jinkerson.
Cress seeds grown in moon dust raise hopes for lunar plants…
We may be a couple of steps closer to lunar crops… Scientists have grown plants in lunar soil for the first time. The scientists planted thale cress seeds (Arabidopsis thaliana) in the moon dust that was brought back from previous Apollo missions. Whilst the plants sprouted and grew into fully fledged plants, it is worth noting that they did not thrive by any means.
The plants were seen to grow less than those planted in volcanic ash, showing physiological stress as well as severely stunted roots. “We found that plants do indeed grow in lunar regolith, however they respond as if they are growing in a stressful situation,” said University of Florida molecular biologist, Dr Anna-Lisa.
This experiment was the first of its kind, the first investigation as to whether plants can grow in lunar soil. Due to the obviously precious nature of the soil, Nasa loaned only 12g (a few teaspoons) for the test.
“The ability to take plants successfully with us to the moon is how we’ll grow our own food, how we’ll stay there for a while without resupply,” said Dr Robert Ferl, a co-author on the study. “Showing that plants will grow in lunar soil is actually a huge step in that direction, of being able to establish ourselves and lunar colonies.”
The study stated how the research team planted the thale cress seeds in small, thimble sized pots which each contained a small amount of the lunar soil brought back from Apollo 11, 12 and 17 space missions. After just a few days almost all of the wells showed a little greenness with nearly all the plants germinating.
Lunar soil is poor in nutrients and rich in iron particles, powdery in nature and littered with glass fragments (meteorite leftovers…), making the conditions very unfavourable for plants. With molecular analysis the team showed how the plants had developed genes to deal with environmental stress, including some reddish black spots.
Comparing the samples showed the plants grown in Apollo 11’s soil were inhibited. This is likely due to the fact that the soil was more exposed to the lunar surface compared to those samples brought back in the Apollo 12 and 17 mission. Cosmic rays and radiation from solar wind damage the top layers of the lunar soil, making it harder for the plants to survive and grow.
Using this information the future lunar farmers could seek out younger parts of the moon’s surface where the soil is more sheltered than the other more exposed areas of the moons hostile environment. Ferl went on to say how a new plan to return humans to the Moon, led by NASA, had changed some of the focuses of the agency. The Artemis program aims to send crews to live on the moon for weeks or even months. They are expected to return larger samples and rocks and so reduce the demand for the existing Apollo mission samples.
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Coral Reefs - Current Creators
Bouderlique, T., Petersen, J., Faure, L., Abed-Navandi, D., Bouchnita, A., Mueller, B., Nazarov, M., Englmaier, L., Tesarova, M., Frade, P., Zikmund, T., Koehne, T., Kaiser, J., Fried, K., Wild, C., Pantos, O., Hellander, A., Bythell, J. and Adameyko, I., 2022. Surface flow for colonial integration in reef-building corals. Current Biology,.
🌿Algae Gene Insights
Fauser, F., Vilarrasa-Blasi, J., Onishi, M., Ramundo, S., Patena, W., Millican, M., Osaki, J., Philp, C., Nemeth, M., Salomé, P., Li, X., Wakao, S., Kim, R., Kaye, Y., Grossman, A., Niyogi, K., Merchant, S., Cutler, S., Walter, P., Dinneny, J., Jonikas, M. and Jinkerson, R., 2022. Systematic characterization of gene function in the photosynthetic alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Nature Genetics,.
Paul, A., Elardo, S. and Ferl, R., 2022. Plants grown in Apollo lunar regolith present stress-associated transcriptomes that inform prospects for lunar exploration. Communications Biology, 5(1).