Leafy Greens and Friends: who’s hangin’ out on your lettuce?

Image of a healthy vibrant-green head of lettuce with water droplets on it.
Image of a lettuce head from https://pixnio.com
Background:

To the general public, the idea that there are tiny organisms living all around (and inside) of us might be a scary concept. Naturally, if all the news you get on a regular basis is concerning the totally-terrifying E. Coli that can give you food poisoning, or that fiendish-foe influenza–it’s not surprising that people often have negative reactions to the term “microbe.” The reality is that we’re mostly made up of microbes, we encounter them every day, and most of the time they’re harmless or even beneficial! In fact, we often use microbes to ferment sugars so we can make things like yogurt and bread, and just as we use these microbes for our own benefit–plants can do the same! Continue reading “Leafy Greens and Friends: who’s hangin’ out on your lettuce?”

Going gaga for ferns!

Picture of Lady Gaga and heart-shaped fern gametophyte.
Fig. 1: One of the inspirations behind Li et al. naming an entire fern genus after Lady Gaga was the costume she wore for her performance at the 2010 Grammys, which resembles a gametophyte (image from Duke University).

Background

Hybridization has been shown to play a critical role in the evolution of plants (Rieseberg and Wendel 1993) and molecular studies have allowed scientists to re-evaluate taxonomy through multiple methods besides just morphological characteristics (Li et al. 2012). However, some ferns, such as the cheilanthoid ferns in the family Pteridaceae, had not been re-classified as of 2012 even though they were known to be non-monophyletic (that they didn’t all share a single common ancestor). Li et al. (2012) were particularly interested in a group of about twenty cheilanthoid ferns referred to as the “Cheilanthes marginata group,” which are found in arid habitats ranging from Arizona and Texas all the way to Bolivia. They hoped to distinguish this group from its most closely related fern relatives and revise the taxonomy based on the number of chromosomes (an organism’s condensed DNA) and genetic relatedness. Continue reading “Going gaga for ferns!”