Several members of the Horticulture Group recently joined with the Agrisciences Group for a very enjoyable visit to Rothamsted Research. Alison Foster has picked out her highlights of this visit in her report below.
On 18 September we will be holding the presentations for the David Miller Bursary Award at Reading University when the winners and one of last year's winners will be updating us on the work they are doing. These presentations will be preceded by our Annual General Meeting and, as usual all members of the Group are welcome.
On 29 September we will be joining with the Professional Horticulture Group South West to visit specialist soft fruit grower, New Forest Fruits. Part of the Faversham based Asplins marketing cooperative bringing together growers from Aberdeenshire to Somerset, New Forsest Fruits produce over 2,000 tonnes of strawberries and 100 tonnes of blueberries.
Rothamsted Research is located in the rural Hertfordshire countryside on the edge of Harpenden. Agricultural research has been carried out on this site since 1843 making it the longest running agricultural research station in the world. It was founded by Sir John Bennet Lawes whose family had been living at Rothamsted Manor since the 17th century. Indeed, the land is still owned today by the Lawes Agricultural Trust, which supports agricultural science both nationally and internationally.
The major funder of the research carried out at Rothamsted today is the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Of particular interest to me on the visit was to see the long term field experiments for which Rothamsted is famous, in particular the Broadbalk experiment (pictured right) which was initiated in 1843 by Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert, a chemist, who was appointed as Lawes’ scientific collaborator. Lawes had been interested for several years in the effects of fertiliser on crop growth and so, with the first sowing in 1843 of a winter wheat crop, they began to investigate the effect of inorganic fertilisers and organic manures on crop growth. The field is divided into sections – and although the exact structure of the experiment has changed over the years, the underlying principles remain the same. One section of the field has received no fertiliser or manure since 1843. Originally, the experiment was weeded by hand, but herbicides have now been used on all but one section of the field. Indeed this site has now become one of possibly just two locations where Galium tricornutum (corn cleavers) is still growing in the UK. Modernisation of farming practices has all but wiped out this arable weed from the UK landscape. The only crop used for well over 100 years was wheat, with the new short-strawed cultivars introduced in 1968. More recently, some sections of the field have been given over to other crops to allow a comparison of continuously grown wheat with wheat grown in two different three-course rotations. Samples of the crops produced, and of the soil, are taken each year and stored in the Rothamsted archive. This repository is now an extremely valuable source of long term information – not only relating to crop yield, but also to the ecological effects of different fertiliser applications amongst many other things.
In stark contrast with the seven long term experiments that are still going today, Rothamsted Research is also home to a very modern field experiment site. Heavily protected inside a double chain link fence, with 24 hour patrols of security guard and guard dog, was growing a small “field” of Camelina sativa (pictured right). The plants growing in this trial, which is scheduled to last four growing seasons from 2014, are the product of many years of research by scientists who have developed a way to introduce the genes required to produce omega-3-long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the seeds of the plant. This field trial aims to evaluate the performance in the field of this introduced trait. If successful, the aim is that this crop will provide an alternative source of these potentially valuable omega-3-oils, which have been shown to have significant human health benefits. Dietary sources of these oils are oily fish, but the fish do not produce these oils themselves either. They accumulate the oils through consumption of algae or fishmeal and fish oil in farmed fish. The aquaculture industry requires new sources of omega-3 oils in order to remain sustainable and to ensure the health of the aquatic food web.
The foresight of Lawes and Gilbert is undeniable – the legacy that the experiments such as Broadbalk have produced continue to be of use to scientists around the world. Maybe it’s time to remember that today’s scientists are also working to produce a legacy of benefit to society for generations to come and not treat the work as something the public should be horrified about. Surely the cost of 'protection' of the Camelina field trial would be better invested directly in more scientific research?
See also the Agriscience view.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllaceae
Nothing signifies the onset of autumn more to me than the smell of candy floss or caramel wafting across a sun-bathed garden from the Katsura tree, Cerdiciphyllum japonicum. One of the very first trees into leaf in a garden setting in the UK, this is also just about the earliest to display its autumn finery and as it does so, to emit this wondrous fragrance. Throughout the year this tree stores complex sugars in its leaves (picture right by Jean-Pol Grandmont) and then at the onset of leaf drop these complex sugars break down into their constituent parts for reabsorption by the plant. A side product of this breakdown is the release of a small molecule called maltol and it is this molecule that is largely responsible for the beguiling aroma.
Once bare of leaves, one can see the characteristic opposite, clawed, red buds on the twigs. The emergence of the dainty, heart shaped leaves, initially tinged red then signal the first signs of spring. Continued close inspection as the season progresses will reveal the tree to have small and inconspicuous flowers that are either functionally male or female, but not both. Technically this is therefore known as dioecious (having 'two households'). This tree is one of two species in the genus with only this single genus in the family. Its nearest botanical relatives are the witch hazels (Hamamelidaceae).
Although it makes a fantastic addition to any garden, care must be taken with its siting as it is definitely a species that is susceptible to drought and prefers to be grown in moist soil. When suffering drought stress the tree will prematurely shed its leaves (and emit that characteristic aroma) and re-flush when sufficient moisture is again available. If this happens late in the season the new growth has insufficient time to harden off before winter and is then susceptible to damage by frosts.
In Japan, China and Korea this species is embedded in the folklore and celebrated in poetry where Katsura has been translated as the 'moon laurel'. Legend has it that a shadow on the moon is the result of a magic Katsura tree which cannot be cut down.
So as you visit gardens over the next few weeks, try following your nose to seek out a Katsura tree.
Melampodium leucanthum, black-foot daisy, plains blackfoot, Asteraceae
This small, mound-forming, herbaceous perennial is native to south west North America. It can be found growing on plains, prairies, meadows, savannah and especially dry calcareous areas from Colorado to Oklahoma, south to Arizona and eastwards to Texas and Mexico.
It is heat and drought tolerant and requires good drainage, and although borderline hardy in the UK, is worth trying in dry or gravel gardens in warmer parts of the UK. In its native habitat it has an extremely long flowering season, from March through to November.
Its composite flowers consist of 8-10 broad ray florets surrounding a small yellow central group of disk florets and have a honey scent (picture right by Sue in az).
A recent study of the constituents of this plant found a new tricyclic sesquiterpene which was named meleucanthin. Also isolated were four known germacranolide sesquiterpene lactones. All compounds were tested for their antiproliferative and cytotoxic activity against multiple prostate and cervical cancer cell lines and were found to have interesting activity. The compounds interfere with cell division by inhibiting mitotic spindle function. The work was carried out by a team in Texas, who have a programme to investigate the anti-cancer potential of the native Texas flora.
Robles, AJ., Peng, J., Hartley, RM., Lee, B. and Mooberry, SL.(2015)Melampodium leucanthum, a Source of Cytotoxic Sesquiterpenes with Antimitotic ActivitiesJ Nat Prod. Mar 27;78(3):388-95. doi: 10.1021/np500768s
Commercial Horticultural Association
This autumn CHA will be taking groups to three shows; the Naivasha Horticultural Fair in Kenya between 18-19 Sept 2015; The International Horticultural Trade Fair at Vijfhuizen, Holland between 4-6 Nov 2015; Growtech Eurasia in Antalya, Turkey between 2-5 December 2015. Grants will be available for eligible UK companies wishing to participate and anyone interested should contact CHA.
Honey bees can evolve to resist Varroa
Researchers have found a population of wild honey bees from around Ithaca, New York, which is as strong today as ever, despite the Varroa mites invading the region in the mid-1990s. The researchers studied the population genetics of the wild colony by comparing the DNA of specimens collected in 1977 with bees collected from the same forest in 2010. The population appears to have developed genetic resistance. More
Gibberellins need brassinosteroids
Two growth-promoting groups of substances, or phytohormones, the gibberellins and the brassinosteroids, are used independently of each other for the breeding and production of crop plants. A team of scientists has now discovered that the two act in concert - without brassinosteroids, a plant is unable to produce gibberellins. The scientists used plants with mutations, which impaired the activity of brassinosteroids. They discovered that these plants produced less gibberellins and as a result, the plants’ germination was impaired, their growth inhibited and their flowering delayed. The brassinosteroids are therefore necessary for the production of gibberellins.
High-quality graphene from tea tree extract
Graphene has been grown from diverse materials and can theoretically be grown from any carbon source. However, scientists are still looking for a graphene precursor and growth method that is sustainable, scalable, and economically feasible, since these are all requirements for realizing widespread commercialization of graphene-based devices. In a new study, researchers have grown graphene from the tea tree plant Melaleuca alternifolia, the plant used to make essential oils in traditional medicine. The researchers demonstrated that they could fabricate large-area, nearly defect-free graphene films from tea tree oil in as little as a few seconds to a few minutes, whereas current growth methods usually take several hours. Unlike current methods, the new method also works at relatively low temperatures, does not require catalysts, and does not rely on methane or other non-renewable, toxic, or explosive precursors. More
Moon could make plants move
Sowing and cultivating by the phases of the moon is an ancient practice though with no evidence to back up the practice. Now it is shown that the movement of plant leaves may be at least partially governed by the gravitational pull of the moon. Some plants’ leaves rise and fall during the day-night cycle, mostly in reaction to light in their environment. But plants grown in the dark have similar cycles, which hints that something else may be at work as well. Data recorded since the 1920s on the leaf movement of beans and other plants were matched with estimates of the gravitational influence of the moon at the time and location of each experiment. The two data sets don’t match exactly but generally, when the lunar tide turns, so do the leaves. It’s not clear exactly how the moon could influence this change, but it may be associated with the movement of water in a part of the plant called the pulvinus, the 'joint' where leaf meets. More
A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops
A new meta-analysis reveals robust evidence of GM crop benefits for farmers in developed and developing countries. On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Such evidence may help to gradually increase public trust in this technology.
Don’t kill pests - attract predators
The serpentine columbine Aquilegia eximia has found an elaborate way to protect itself from predators. The sticky herb is a favourite snack of Heliothis phloxiphaga moth larvae, which munch its buds, flowers, and fruits. But instead of trying to attack the creepy-crawlies directly, the columbine sends out a chemical signal that attracts dragonflies, beetles, and other insects. When these bugs land on the plant, they get stuck on its sticky, hairy surface and die, coating the columbine with dead bodies. These bodies in turn attract meat eaters like spiders, which also consume the moth larvae while they’re noshing. The spiders have evolved not to get stuck on the plant. Such an indirect defence against predators has not been seen in any other plant species but the investigators suspect that, with a bit more looking, biologists will find similar strategies in other plants. More
Malic acid causes cherry cracking
'Cracking' is a problem for sweet cherry production wherever the high-value crop is grown. However, despite considerable research, the reason that this phenomenon occurs has not been clear. Scientists seeking to answer this problem observed a surprising and dramatic increase in cracking when sweet cherry fruit are brought into direct contact with the expressed juice of sweet cherries. Furthermore the same effect can also be reproduced using malic acid on its own.
The world is full of drilodefensins
Scientists have discovered how earthworms can digest plant material, such as fallen leaves, that would defeat most other herbivores. Earthworms are responsible for returning the carbon locked inside dead plant material back into the ground and they do this in spite of toxic chemicals produced by plants to deter herbivores. Now scientists have identified molecules in the earthworm gut that counteract the plant’s natural defences and enable digestion. The molecules, which have been named drilodefensins, are so abundant that they estimate that for every person on earth there is at least 1kg of drilodefensins present within the earthworms that populate the world’s soils. Their abundance is not, however, an excess – drilodefensins are so precious that earthworms recycle the molecules in order to harness their effects again.
Biopesticides - innovative technologies & strategies for pest control
7 - 9 Sep 2015, Swansea University
World Sustainability Forum
7 - 9 Sep 2015, SCI Forum
Growing Media, Composting and Substrate Analysis
7 - 11 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Four Oaks Trade Show
6 - 9 Sep 2015, Four Oaks Nursery
Lower Withington, UK
Mycotoxins in Nuts and Dried Fruits
8 - 12 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Next steps for UK food waste policy
10 Sep 2015, Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum
Fresh-Cut Produce: Maintaining Quality and Safety
13 - 18 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
14 - 16 Sep 2015, Rothamsted Research
16 - 18 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
28 Sep - 2 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Artichoke, Cardoon and their Wild Relatives
29 Sep - 2 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
La Plata, Argentina
27 Sep - 1 Oct 2015
28 Sep - 2 Oct 2015
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
People and Nature
30 Sep 2015, Cambridge Conservation Forum
Integrated Protection in Field Vegetables
4 - 7 Oct 2015, International Organisation for Biological Control
Postharvest Loss Prevention
4 - 7 Oct 2015,
6 - 7 Oct 2015, BCPC
Global Food Security
11 - 14 Oct 2015, Cornell University and Columbia University
Applications of Modelling as an Innovative Technology in the Horticultural Supply Chain
11 - 14 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Wageningen, The Netherlands
Global soil biodiversity
13 Oct 2015, James Hutton Institute
13 - 14 Oct 2015, Rothamsted Research
Fundamentals of Global Food Security
14 - 17 Oct 2015
Des Moines, USA
Soils - where the answer lies
15 Oct 2015, Tropical Agriculture Association
National Fruit Show
21 - 22 Oct 2015
23 - 25 Oct 2015, Society of Experimental Biology
Iguassu Falls, Brazil
Plant Molecular Biology
25 - 30 Oct 2015, Brazilian Genetics Society
Iguassu Falls, Brazil
28 - 30 Oct 2015, LemnaTec
Artemisia annua against malaria
29 Oct 2015, Tropical Agriculture Association
15 - 18 Nov 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Biostimulants in Agriculture
16 - 19 Nov 2015, New Ag International
Integrated Pest Management
17 - 19 Nov 2015, Association of Applied Biologists
Soft Fruit Day
25 Nov 2015, East Malling Research & AHDB Horticulture
East Malling, UK
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