Tag Archives: facts

Friday Fellow: Spiked Pepper

by Piter Kehoma Boll

A relative of the famous black pepper from India that is used as a spice worldwide, today’s fellow, the spiked pepper Piper aduncum, comes from South America, where it is also called by other names such as matico and higuillo de hoja menuda.

Growing as a small tree or shrub, the spiked pepper is widespread throughout the continent, being found in both the Atlantic and the Amazonian forests. Having a peppery odor as other peppers, it can be used as a substitute of them while preparing food, but its main uses are medicinal.

Piper_aduncum

Close up of a branch of Piper aduncum showing the inflorescences. Photo by João Medeiros.*

It is classically used by local populations as an antiseptic applied directly on open wounds and also as an infusion or paste to treat gastrointestinal disorders and problems of the genital organs. Laboratory studies using extracts from the plant concluded that it has antibacterial and moluscidal properties, thus having the potential to be used as both an antiseptic and a pesticide against mollusks.

Outside of South America, the spiked pepper became a problematic invasive species in several islands of the Pacific, such as New Guinea and Fiji. In Papua-New Guinea, it has become so common that it was incorporated in the culture of local people, who use it as a wood source and as a medicine and pesticide.

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References:

Maia, J., Zohhbi, M., Andrade, E., Santos, A., da Silva, M., Luz, A., & Bastos, C. (1998). Constituents of the essential oil ofPiper aduncum L. growing wild in the Amazon region Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 13 (4), 269-272 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1026(1998070)13:43.0.CO;2-A

Orjala, J., Wright, A., Behrends, H., Folkers, G., Sticher, O., Rüegger, H., & Rali, T. (1994). Cytotoxic and Antibacterial Dihydrochalcones from Piper aduncum Journal of Natural Products, 57 (1), 18-26 DOI: 10.1021/np50103a003

Potzernheim, M., Bizzo, H., Silva, J., & Vieira, R. (2012). Chemical characterization of essential oil constituents of four populations of Piper aduncum L. from Distrito Federal, Brazil Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 42, 25-31 DOI: 10.1016/j.bse.2011.12.025

Siges, T., Hartemink, A., Hebinck, P., & Allen, B. (2005). The Invasive Shrub Piper aduncum and Rural Livelihoods in the Finschhafen Area of Papua New Guinea Human Ecology, 33 (6), 875-893 DOI: 10.1007/s10745-005-8214-7

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Friday Fellow: Downy Mildew

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Last week I introduced a serious plant pathogen, the gray mold, that attacks many crops and has a special role as either a bad or a good guy in wine grapes. But a plant that is never happy with an infection by the gray mold is certainly the lettuce. And in this case our juicy vegetable has an enemy that makes it susceptible to the mold, and I’m bringing it to you today.

Named Bremia lactucae, this organism is a oomycete, thus belonging to a group of organisms that was formerly classified as a fungus, but that currently is known to be more closely related to brown and golden algae. This species attacks lettuces and closely related plants, causing a disease called downy mildew.

Bremia_lactucae

A lettuce leaf with downy mildew. Photo by Gerald Holmes.*

The downy mildew is the most important disease affecting lettuce worldwide. The disease itself is not the main problem, although it decreases the quality of the crop. Its main problem is that it makes the vegetable more vulnerable to other infections, such as those by the gray mold, and also increases the risk of contamination by human pathogens, such as intestinal parasites.

Bremia_lactucae1

A branch of the downy mildew under the microscope. Photo by Bruce Watt.*

The usual forms of controling the spread of the downy mildew is by using fungicides and developing mildew-resistant lettuces by hybridization with wild and naturally resistant varieties. However, as usual, the downy mildew eventually adapts to this, giving rise to fungicide-resistant strains, as well as strains able to neutralize the resistance of lettuce lineages. It’s one more evolutionary arms race.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Beharav, A., Ochoa, O., & Michelmore, R. (2013). Resistance in natural populations of three wild Lactuca species from Israel to highly virulent Californian isolates of Bremia lactucae Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 61 (3), 603-609 DOI: 10.1007/s10722-013-0062-5

Parra, L., Maisonneuve, B., Lebeda, A., Schut, J., Christopoulou, M., Jeuken, M., McHale, L., Truco, M., Crute, I., & Michelmore, R. (2016). Rationalization of genes for resistance to Bremia lactucae in lettuce Euphytica, 210 (3), 309-326 DOI: 10.1007/s10681-016-1687-1

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Friday Fellow: Gray Mold

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow will show you how beauty is only a matter of perspective. Being an ascomycete fungus, it is commonly known as gray mold and is usually found growing on decaying vegetables, especially fruits such as the strawberry in the photo below:

Botrytis_cinerea1

Gray mold growing on a strawberry. Most people would not see it as a beautiful image. Photo by Wikimedia user Rasbak.*

The gray mold has a controversial biological nomenclature, as many other fungi. The most common name is Botrytis cinerea used for its asexual stage (anamorph), which is the most common. Its sexual stage (teleomorph) is known as Botryotina fuckeliana. I guess this issue, which was common in naming fungi with rare or unknown occurrences of sexual stage, has already been settled, but as I’m not a taxonomist of fungus, I cannot speak much on the subject.

More than only having a controversial name, this fungus has also a controversial interaction with humans. It is a notable pest in wine grapes and may lead to two different infections on them. One of those is called “grey rot” and happens under wet conditions, leading to the loss of the grapes. The other is called “noble rot” and is a beneficial form of the infection that happens when the wet condition is followed by a dry one and produce a fine and sweet vine due to the concentration of sugars in the grape.

Out of the vine world, however, the gray mold is not something that you want growing on your crops. As as it attacks more than 200 species, many of them being important food crops, there is a big interest in developing strategies to reduce the damage it causes. And these strategies include the use of pesticides, plant essential oils or even other organisms that may parasitize the gray mold.

But one cannot deny that if you look closer, even the gray mold is beautiful:

Botrytis_cinerea

A beautiful tiny forest of gray mold on a strawberry. Photo by Macroscopic Solutions.**

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Wikipedia. Botrytis cinerea. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botrytis_cinerea&gt;. Access on June 2, 2017.

WILLIAMSON, B., TUDZYNSKI, B., TUDZYNSKI, P., & VAN KAN, J. (2007). Botrytis cinerea: the cause of grey mould disease Molecular Plant Pathology, 8 (5), 561-580 DOI: 10.1111/j.1364-3703.2007.00417.x

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Friday Fellow: Field Hornwort

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Three weeks ago our Friday Fellow was a moss, being the third non-vascular plant to be introduced. And before going back to vascular plants, let’s take a look at another non-vascular fellow from the only non-vascular division that was not yet introduced here, the hornworts.

The species I chose to start the participation of hornworts is the field hornwort, Anthoceros agrestis.

Anthoceros_agrestis

A piece of soil with the field hornwort growing on the top. Photo by Wikimedia user BerndH.*

As with other hornworts, the field hornwort has a dominant gametophyte phase which appears as a small flattened plant growing very close to the soil. The sporophyte grows over it and has the form of an elongate vertical horn, hence the name hornwort.

Found in Europe and North America, the field hornwort usually grows in wet places and is often surrounded by  mosses. Its gametophyte has some internal cavities filled with muscilage that are a favorite place for species of cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc to grow. This association is what makes hornworts acquire their slight bluish tinge.

The field hornwort has the smallest genome of all non-vascular plants studied until the present and because of that it has been cultivated to serve as an interesting model organism.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

EOL – Encyclopedia of life. Field Hornwort. Available at <http://eol.org/pages/399515/overview&gt;. Access on May 18, 2017.

Szövényi, P., Frangedakis, E., Ricca, M., Quandt, D., Wicke, S., & Langdale, J. (2015). Establishment of Anthoceros agrestis as a model species for studying the biology of hornworts BMC Plant Biology, 15 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12870-015-0481-x

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Friday Fellow: Hummingbird Bobtail Squid

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are digging through the sand at the bottom of the clear tropical waters around Indonesia and the Philippines, you may end up finding a colorful little creature, the hummingbird bobtail squid, Euprymna berryi, also known as Berry’s bobtail squid.

Euprymna_berryi

A beautiful specimen photographed in East Timor. Photo by Nick Hobgood.*

Measuring about 3 cm if male or 5 cm if female, the humminbird bobtail squid is actually more closely related to cuttlefish than to true squids. Its body has a translucent skin marked by many black chromatophores, and to the human eye the animal seems to have a color pattern formed by a blend of black, electric blue and green or purple dots.

During the day, the hummingbid bobtail squid remains most of the time buried in the sand, coming out at night to capture small crustaceans, which it hunts using a bioluminescent organ in its gill cavity.

In some areas around its distribution, the hummingbid bobtail squid is captured and sold in small fisheries, but as the data on the distribution and population dynamics of this species are very poorly known, there is no way to say whether it is vulnerable or endangered in any way. As a result, it is listed as Data Deficient in the IUCN Red List.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Barratt, I., & Allcock, L. (2012). Euprymna berryi The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T162599A925343.en

Wikipedia. Euprymna berryi. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euprymna_berryi&gt;. Access on March 8, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Common Stinkhorn

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today things are getting sort of pornographic again. Some time ago I introduced a plant whose flowers resemble a woman’s vulva, the asian pigeonwing, and now is time to look at something of the other sex. And what could be better than the shameless penis? That’s the translation of the scientific name of this mushroom, Phallus impudicus, whose common name in English is much more discrete: common stinkhorn.

Phallus_impudicus2

Standing proud and shameless. Photo by flickr user Björn S…*

Found throughout Europe and parts of North America in deciduous woods, the common stinkhorn is easily recognizable for its phallic shape and even more for its foul smell that resembles carrion. This odor attracts insects, especially flies, that carry the spores away. This is a different method from the one used by most fungi, which simply release the spores in the air. Some people may mistake the common stinkhorn for morels (genus Morchella) but the two are completely unrelated, being from different phyla.

Despite the foul smell, the common stinkhorn is edible, especially in its first stages of development, when it resembles an egg. Due to its phallic shape, it is also seen as an aphrodisiac in some culture, as it is common with genitalia-shaped lifeforms.

Phallus_impudicus3

The immature fruiting body of Phallus impudicus is the most commonly eaten form. Photo by Danny Steven S.*

The common stinkhorn seems to have some anticoagulant properties and can be used for patients susceptible to thrombosis in the veins, such as patients treating breast cancer.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Kuznecov, G., Jegina, K., Kuznecovs, S., & Kuznecovs, I. (2007). P151 Phallus impudicus in thromboprophylaxis in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and hormonal treatment The Breast, 16 DOI: 10.1016/s0960-9776(07)70211-4

SMITH, K. (2009). On the Diptera associated with the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus Pers.) with notes on other insects and invertebrates found on this fungus. Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London. Series A, General Entomology, 31 (4-6), 49-55 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3032.1956.tb00206.x

Wikipedia. Phallus impudicus. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phallus_impudicus&gt;. Access on March 7, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Spreading Earthmoss

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you still think mosses are uninteresting lifeforms, perhaps you will change your mind after knowing the spreading earthmoss, Physcomitrella patens.

Found in temperate regions of the world, except for South America, but more commonly recorded in North America and Eurasia, the spreading earthmoss grows near water bodies, being one of the first species to colonize the exposed soil around pools of water. Although widely distributed, it is not a common species.

Physcomitrella_patens

The spreading earthmoss growing on mud. Photo by Hermann Schachner.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, the spreading earthmoss has been used as a model organism, especially regarding gene manipulation. Differently from what occurs in vascular plants, the dominant life phase in mosses is the gametophyte, an haploid organism, meaning it has only one copy of each chromosome in its cells. This is an ideal condition for the study of gene expression, as the activation or inactivation of a gene is not hindered by a second one in another copy of the chromosome in the same cell.

Physcomitrella_patens_ecotypes

Physcomitrella patens growing in the lab. Credits to the Lab of Ralf Reski.*

By controlling gene expression in the spreading earthmoss, researches can track the role of each one of them in the plant’s development. Comparing these data with that known from flowering plants, we can have a better understanding of how the plant kingdom evolved.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Cove, D. (2005). The Moss Physcomitrella patens Annual Review of Genetics, 39 (1), 339-358 DOI: 10.1146/annurev.genet.39.073003.110214

Schaefer, D. (2001). The Moss Physcomitrella patens, Now and Then PLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 127 (4), 1430-1438 DOI: 10.1104/pp.127.4.1430

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