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  • News in Brief

    Bits of bacterial DNA naturally lurk inside sweet potatoes

    Sweet potatoes farmed worldwide picked up a bit of genetic engineering — without human help.

    Samples collected from 291 cultivated sweet potatoes carry at least one stretch of DNA from Agrobacterium, says plant molecular biologist Godelieve Gheysen of Ghent University in Belgium. The Agrobacterium genus includes the main bacterial species that makes intentionally...

    04/20/2015 - 15:00 Plants, Genetics, Science & Society
  • News

    From lemons to kumquats, roots of citrus variety dug up

    The mother of all citrus plants lived about 13 million years ago, scientists have learned by tracing the maternal side of the citrus family tree. Yet it is dad’s contribution that has revealed the growing family’s entire portrait.

    Starting about 8.08 million years ago, the citrus family tree began branching out. That’s when Australian limes and citrons split from the original Citrus...

    04/14/2015 - 17:00 Plants, Evolution, Genetics
  • Science Ticker

    Plants suck in nicotine from nearby smokers

    Plants turn out to be secondhand smokers, taking in nicotine from humankind’s tobacco and fumes. And lab tests suggest that slipping a cigarette butt into a plant’s pot sends a temporary surge of nicotine into its leaves.

    Researchers sprinkled 100 milligrams of American Spirit tobacco — about an eighth to a tenth of a cigarette — onto the soil of potted peppermint plants. Nine days later...

    04/13/2015 - 12:27 Plants, Science & Society
  • Science Ticker

    Plant growth patterns changing on much of Earth’s surface

    Patterns in when and how much plants grow have changed markedly over the past 30 years, scientists report March 2 in Nature Climate Change.

    Researchers looked at satellite data of vegetation on the Earth’s surface from 1981 to 2012. They examined 21 markers of plant growth, including the dates when plants start sprouting and...

    03/02/2015 - 15:40 Plants, Climate
  • News

    Tropical plant knows whose bill is in its flowers

    Some plants crave a long bird bill. One tropical plant can even recognize which kind of hummingbird is slurping its nectar by the shape of its bill, scientists report online March 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    In Heliconia tortuosa, long-billed hummingbirds can reach in and...

    03/02/2015 - 15:00 Plants, Animals, Ecology
  • News in Brief

    Beetle RNA makes crops a noxious meal

    To keep pests at bay, try giving them a taste of their own genes. Hungry beetles spurn crops bearing the insects’ genetic material, scientists report in the Feb. 27 Science. When pests munch the engineered plants, beetle RNA in the leaves switches off key genes in the bugs.

    The Colorado potato beetle is a...

    02/26/2015 - 14:00 Plants, Animals, Agriculture
  • It's Alive

    Fairly bad pitcher traps triumph in the end

    Incompetent, says who? Carnivorous pitcher plant traps rarely catch much, but their lackadaisical hunting turns out not to be so lame after all. Ask the ecologist who set up hospital IV drips to test Nepenthes rafflesiana traps in the shrubbery of Brunei.

    Biologists have observed that pitcher plants “have pretty lousy traps,” says Ulrike Bauer of the University of Bristol in...

    02/06/2015 - 13:21 Plants, Ecology
  • Wild Things

    Huge, hollow baobab trees are actually multiple fused stems

    The baobab is one the most iconic African trees. The species, Adansonia digitatais widespread across the continent, and its fruit is an important traditional food. The trees are huge, often growing to many meters in girth. Scientists have difficulty determining the age of these behemoths, though — they stop forming rings...

    02/04/2015 - 11:54 Plants
  • Science Ticker

    Isaac Newton’s theory of how water defies gravity in plants

    Isaac Newton had a clue about how plants transport water 200 years before botanists. David Beerling, a plant scientist at the University of Sheffield in England, argues in the Feb. 2 Nature Plants that Newton’s notes on plant sap in the 1660s presage...

    02/03/2015 - 11:42 Plants
  • Science Ticker

    Plant chemical weaponry may offer ammunition for pesticides

    Plants have lethal weapons against insects. Researchers screened 1,651 plant species and found two— giant goldenrod (Solidago serotina) and spicebush (Lindera erythrocarpa) — that make five different compounds...

    01/29/2015 - 07:00 Plants