Field of Science

Plants Are Cool, Too!

Check out the second episode of the botanical series Plants Are Cool, Too! In this episode, they find preserved leaves from trees that grew 15 million years ago. My guess is that there were mosses growing on those trees. I wonder if any of them were preserved too? It would be amazing to get ancient moss DNA or just to see what some of the mosses looked like. Unfortunately mosses do not fossilize as well as other plants, so finding some in these deposits would be amazing too!

Check out the video below and spread it around.

Sept 2012 Desktop Calendar

This is leaf of Physcomitrium pyriforme or P. eurystomum. I am not sure which species. It was a preliminary photo that we took for some leaf cell measurements that we will be making this semester. 

If you are interested in downloading this desktop calendar follow the instructions below. 

1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will loose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use as Desktop Picture". The wording may vary.

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.

Any issues or suggestions please let me know. These calendars are an experiment in-progress.

Cool New Cryo SEM

The electron microscopy facility that I work in here at UConn just got a new piece of equipment over the summer and I have some images from it to show off. 

The laboratory now has a cryo-stage for the scanning electron microscope! But let's take a step back in case this type of microscopy is new to you. Basically a scanning electron microscope (SEM) shoots electrons at a sample that is placed in a chamber under high vacuum. The electrons bounce off the sample and enable you to detect an image of the surface that is at a much higher magnification than you can see with a light microscope. The light (dissecting) microscope that I have in the lab magnifies 50-250X, whereas the SEM can magnify up to 200,000X! That is pretty awesome in and of itself, but the cryo-stage adds a whole other level to this equipment. Typically the samples that you look at have to be completely dry before placing them into the vacuum. This is a big issue for biological samples, which can be full of water. There are a number of ways to get rid of the water, but these processes often change the shape of the structures. For some studies this is not a major issue, but for other studies scientists are really trying to see what the plants or animals look like when they are hydrated as they would be when alive. 

Cryo-stage to the rescue! With this equipment a sample can be flash frozen in liquid nitrogen with all of the water in place and then placed into the microscope on the chilled cryo-stage. Then the sample can be viewed with the tissues fully hydrated.

I was out of town when they used some of my moss samples for a test run, so I didn't get to see the equipment in action, but here are some of the images that were taken.

This is a leafy gametophyte stem with a cluster of antheridia at the apex. We are looking down at the top of the stem and there is a second leafy gametophyte lying on its side in the background. The leaves are fully expanded and in an arrangement that you would see when hydrated. If they were dry they would be all folded and curled up on themselves.

Here is the cluster of antheridia and hairs at higher magnification. 

And at an even higher magnification. The hairs located in the antheridia clusters in the Funariaceae are characterized by having a large apical cell, which we can see here is fully hydrated. The filaments covering the hairs are probably fungs or bacteria. These mosses were grown in the laboratory but not in sterile conditions.

Some of the leaves were removed from the gametophyte to make for easier viewing. This image shows the inside of the leaf cells. The outline of the cell walls are visible and it is super cool that we can see the water filling each of the cells.

Congratulations to Dr. Cantino and colleagues on their successful National Science Foundation research grant that funded this new piece of equipment.