Field of Science

Persistent P's Permeating the Polytrichiaceae

In lab group last week we read an article about the moss family Polytrichiaceae. These are the mosses that have fabulous little lamellae on their leaves. Some species are quite common and can be found in open disturbed edge habitat. They can be recognized by their star-shaped form when viewed from above and they are often one of the largest mosses that you will see in the field.

Bell, Neil E. and Jaakko Hyvönen. 2010. Phylogeny of the moss class Polytrichopsida (BRYOPHYTA): Generic-level structure and incongruent gene trees. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55: 381-398. 

Species are typically grouped into the larger category of genera based on the morphology of the plants, their physical appearance. Thus all the members of the genus Atrichum (the smooth capped mosses) look similar to each other and the same for other genera such as Polytrichum (the hairy capped moss). Sometimes it ends up that these morphological groupings are confirmed by the DNA sequence data and all the members of the genus did descend from a common ancestor. Other times the DNA data shows that the members are not descended from a recent common ancestor and are instead distantly related. The morphology and the DNA evidence tell a different story. In this study both Polytrichastrum and Oligotrichum are composed of members that are distantly related. The later genus has a distinct geographic pattern with all the northern members being related to each other and all the southern members in the other group. Overall I think that it is pretty cool to explore these morphological hypotheses with DNA data. You never know what there is to be found. 

Another paper on this group of mosses by the same authors.
Bell, Neil E. and Jaakko Hyvönen. 2010 A phylogenetic circumscription of Polytrichastrum (Polytrichaceae): Reassessment of sporophyte morphology supports molecular phylogeny. American Journal of Botany 97: 566-578. 

Berry Go Round #33

The October edition of the plant carnival Berry Go Round has been posted at 10,000 Birds.  Enjoy!

For more about blog carnivals and my posts about the earlier editions of Berry Go Round, click here.

Lack of October Posts

Ack! October has come to a close and I have not posted anything up on the blog. Here is the breakdown of what has been up in my mossy world over the past month.

- I have been thinking a lot about explaining my research to the general public in understandable terms.
What I do - I study mosses, small green plants. (visual here - I have my fingers less than an inch apart) All plants are covered by a waxy coating that keeps them moist inside, called a cuticle. (I make a motion of an invisible coating covering the surface of my arm.) My research focuses on how the waxy cuticle develops or forms on the mosses throughout their life. (Moving my hands as though something is growing or time is passing.) I use really powerful microscopes to zoom in to see how this thin, waxy cuticle layer changes over time on the mosses. (Make like I am looking at something tiny.)
     That is where I usually start and depending on the person's level of interest or next question, I continue from there.

- I submitted my first manuscript from my dissertation research to a scientific journal. The paper was turned down by the first journal that I sent it to. I might have been shooting a little high by sending it to a flashy journal with a higher impact factor. Then I reformatted and sent it to a different journal and am waiting to hear if they will send it out for review. Fingers crossed.

- I have been working with a undergraduate student squashing moss tissues to try and count chromosomes. The squashing and staining parts are working well. Now we just need to catch them at just the right developmental stage.

- We (a group project for the Funariaceae grant) have the first color proof of our Brochure focusing on mosses in Connecticut and using them to teach biological concepts to high school students. Stay tuned for a link to the brochure online or where to order. It is almost ready!

- I reviewed a manuscript focusing on bryophytes for a peer-reviewed (me being the peer) science research journal.

And a mossy photo from Malaysia to end the post.