Field of Science

Berry Go Round #3

The third edition of Berry Go Round has been posted at Greg Laden's Blog over at ScienceBlogs. This is a blog carnival that features current events in the botanical world and interesting plant topics. My blog post on airborne sperm dispersal has been included in this edition of the carnival. In addition, a number of other cool plant articles are featured in this carnival. If you have a chance I highly recommend checking it out.

For more about blog carnivals and a link to the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Another Moss with Snorkels

WARNING: This information is inaccutate. Please see this more recent post for additional information.

Atrichum is in the moss family Polytrichaceae, which also contains the genus Polytrichum. This genus is similar to Atrichum in that they both have lamellae (aka. moss snorkels) on their leaves. The difference is that the lamellae in Polytrichum cover the entire surface of the leaf, whereas in Atrichum there are fewer lamellae per leaf (around 1-9) and they are located only on the midrib. The photo to the right is of a cross-section through a leaf that has four lamellae on the thickened midrib.

These lamellae are composed of a single file of green photosynthetic cells. They function by sticking out above the film of water that covers the plant to provide a dry surface for gas exchange. These lamellae can be seen with a hand lens as lines running along the surface of the leaf. The distribution of these snorkels are unique to Atrichum and are a good feature to use to recognize the genus.

Easter Moss

My advisor's daughter left us some Easter goodies in the laboratory over the weekend. Sitting in our office fridge was this cute little bunny. It is filled with some gametophytes and sporophytes of the moss Atrichum. It is a common genus in Connecticut that can be found growing on disturbed soils such as road-banks.

This is in the moss family Polytrichaceae, which also contains the genus Polytrichum. The names of these two genera have an interesting relationship. Polytrichum ca be broken down in to its component parts. Poly- is a prefix derived from Greek that means much or many. The second half of the word is also of Greek origin. -trichum refers to a hair, thread, or filament, hence the common name is the hairy capped moss. Atrichum also has a cap, or calyptra, on its sporophyte (not pictured here). However its calyptra is entirely hairless, thus the prefix a- means not or without. So this genus is without hairs on the calyptra. Isn't it great when the scientific name of an organism has meaning and relates to its morphology (exterior physical appearance).

Back From Germany

The trip went really well. We learned a lot about the Physcomitrella Genome databases after arriving at the hotel. After the rain we had a tour around the city. The part of Freiburg that we were introduced to was the old historic part of town. We walked through the third city graveyard. It was in use from the mid 1600's to the late 1800's. Now it is a park. There and how to use them, but I won't belabor the technical details. It was cloudy and rainy for the first part of the trip, but we did have this great rainbow were quite a few mosses tucked next to the gravestones and on the rock wall surrounding the graveyard. I didn't get the chance to take any up close shots or to identify any species but I did see some German mosses.

Our tour also included a walk through the center of the old city and the open square that surrounds the cathedral. They have a market in this area of town daily. When we arrived in the square late in the day most of the booths were taken down. A few flower stands and the bratwurst stand were the last ones open. We didn't buy any flowers, because 1) you can't bring them back into the US and 2) I study mosses. It would be a betrayal to purchase gaudy angiosperms in Germany when we didn't really have a chance to fully appreciate the native mosses in the surrounding mountainsides. However we did partake in the bratwurst and the awesome curry ketchup, which I brought back as a souvenir.

Overall it was a whirlwind trip. We were in Germany for only three days. I would definitely like to return for a longer period of time and to focus on collecting mosses in the field.

Off to Germany

I am heading to Freiburg, Germany on Saturday for The Physcomitrella Genome Workshop. (Freiburg is located in the southwestern corner of Germany, close to the borders of France and Switzerland.) The moss Physcomitrella patens is the first bryophyte to have its entire genome sequenced. Basically it is the human genome project for mosses. Here you can check out the official publication of this research that appeared in Science this past December. At the workshop we will be learning how to use the genome databases and how best we can take advantage of this great resource.

It is going to be quite the whirl-wind trip but I am hoping that we will have a chance to see some of the local mosses. I think that it would be great to get outside and visit the Black Forest which surrounds the city. From the pictures that I have seen the mountains look beautiful. Unfortunately the weather prediction has it raining the entire time that we are there. I am crossing my fingers that they are wrong.

I am not taking my computer and with the schedule they have for us on posting on the moss blog will probably not fit in. I will have an update on how it all went when I return.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Moss and Alzeheimers Disease

I read this article entitled Moss Protein Plays Role In Alzheimer's Disease, Researchers Believe Science Daily. The title sounded really interesting but the article itself is not for the faint of mind. They use a lot of jargon and it has quite the round-about connection to . Maybe that is how most Science Daily articles are written? I don't read this publication very often. However if the intention is to communicate science to the public, I think that this article missed the target. Here is my outline/summary of this article.

Two groups of researchers at the University of Washington are working on components of cell communication channels. On group focuses on humans and the other group studies the moss
Physcomitrella patens. They are now collaborating on a project to understand the similarities an differences between this pathway in their respective organisms. The main gene of interest in this pathway is presenilin (PS). Two different mutations can occur in this gene which result in early onset of Alzeheimer's disease in mammals. One of these mutations causes buildup of plaque on nerve cells in the brain.

Researchers were interested in what the PS gene is doing in mosses and if its function is similar to that in animals. They examined this by taking the gene from moss and inserting it into the animals that had a malfunctioning PS gene. They discovered that some of the function was returned. Thus these two genes have a similar function which can be found in genes that share an evolutionary history from a common ancestor.

They hope that by learning about the role of the PS gene in other functions throughout the body, of either mosses or animals, that they can better understand the effects of Alzeheimer's disease therapy.

Alzheimer's Disease, Researchers Believe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/02/080208153632.htm

Moss Poetry

This is the last installment of the moss poetry by Giles Watson. Click here for a link to the original posting of this poem and other botanical poetry.

Fontinalis antipyretica by Giles Watson (October 2004)
... and where the fern’s tear dropped
into the stream that sprung from the stone,
it became part of the whole, swirling
from the mosses’ tresses, split

and rejoined, through the gills of a trout,

where the leafy island ended.
By the holes of voles and the heron’s bone,
with the stream-spun eddies curling,
echoes, waterborne, of the willows above,
where minnows swim, within, without,

are homes for flat-shelled snails.

And mingling in the whispering foam,

with the large-leaved bracts unfurling,

the water-moss, like faeries’ hair,

is weaving, flowing softly out.

And were I where the cold calves low,

or where the kettle sings me home,

where oatmeal mice are bobbing,

I’d seek where moss flows with the stream,
take flight, and slowly go about.

Below the fold is a blurb from the author about his inspiration for this poem.

Source material. Fontinalis antipyretica is known colloquially as ‘Willow Moss’ on account of its flowing attitude. It normally grows submerged in water, where it reproduces by branching and detachment, but it can produce fruiting bodies when exposed to air. It characteristically has larger leaves at the ends of the bracts. This poem was written for Jeannie on her birthday, 10th October 2004, and in honour of William Butler Yeats, whose poem, ‘The Stolen Child’ written in 1886, is answered here.

Moss Video

I was searching YouTube to see if any other interesting videos featuring mosses had been posted of late and I came across this one. It is entitled Moss: A Tribute by Brian Engh and you can link to the original posting here. I think that the video is very well done. I especially enjoy the way moss is placed in a historical framework, starting with their initial foray onto land. The animation of the line drawings and slide images are also really great.

The video does a good job of communicating interesting facts about moss. I only have a couple of comments on the facts presented. The video states that "rain carries the spores to new places". Though they might be splashed out of the capsule by rain, that is not their main mode of dispersal. Spores are dispersed primarily by the wind. Their small size makes it possible for them to be dispersed very long distances even using the jet-stream.

Later in the video it is stated that "when one of these (a tree) dies, moss helps reduce it to nutrients". I guess it does help the tree to decay, but it is in a round-about way. Moss grows on fallen logs because they are very good substrate. They are moist and retain a lot of water which is good for the mosses. The moss in turn keeps the log even more moist as a fuzzy green covering over the log. This added moisture can promote fungal growth. Fungi are the organisms that actually break down and eat the dead tree matter, whereas mosses undergo photosynthesis and make their own food. They do not break down the tree and eat it. Also mosses receive most all of their mineral nutrition from rain water, so that is not coming from the decaying log either. I know that might seem a little picky, but I just wanted to clarify how these organisms are interacting.

All the rest of the facts and ideas presented in the video are right on. This is definitely a great tribute to the mosses. Enjoy!

Moss in Prisons

This is a really interesting program that I heard about which partners prison inmates with moss research, through the Research Ambassadors Program. In this program the inmates are studying methods to sustainably grow mosses to be used for the horticulture trade, thus eliminating the need to harvest mosses from the wild. This benefits the prisoners by teaching them the scientific method and introducing them to the natural world by way of the mosses. It also helps them to develop skills in horticulture that they can use for the rest of their life. Overall I think that it sounds like a great bryological program