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Concept: Pinophyta


We report exceptional preservation of fossil wood buried deeply in a kimberlite pipe that intruded northwestern Canada’s Slave Province 53.3±0.6 million years ago (Ma), revealed during excavation of diamond source rock. The wood originated from forest surrounding the eruption zone and collapsed into the diatreme before resettling in volcaniclastic kimberlite to depths >300 m, where it was mummified in a sterile environment. Anatomy of the unpermineralized wood permits conclusive identification to the genus Metasequoia (Cupressaceae). The wood yields genuine cellulose and occluded amber, both of which have been characterized spectroscopically and isotopically. From cellulose δ(18)O and δ(2)H measurements, we infer that Early Eocene paleoclimates in the western Canadian subarctic were 12-17°C warmer and four times wetter than present. Canadian kimberlites offer Lagerstätte-quality preservation of wood from a region with limited alternate sources of paleobotanical information.

Concepts: Magma, Craton, Pinophyta, Wood, Provinces and territories of Canada, Diamond, Canada, Northwest Territories


Diterpene resin acids (DRAs) are major components of pine (Pinus spp.) oleoresin. They play critical roles in conifer defense against insects and pathogens and as a renewable resource for industrial bioproducts. The core structures of DRAs are formed in secondary (i.e. specialized) metabolism via cycloisomerization of geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGPP) by diterpene synthases (diTPSs). Previously described gymnosperm diTPSs of DRA biosynthesis are bifunctional enzymes that catalyze the initial bicyclization of GGPP followed by rearrangement of a (+)-copalyl diphosphate intermediate at two discrete class II and class I active sites. In contrast, similar diterpenes of gibberellin primary (i.e. general) metabolism are produced by the consecutive activity of two monofunctional class II and class I diTPSs. Using high-throughput transcriptome sequencing, we discovered 11 diTPS from jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Three of these were orthologous to known conifer bifunctional levopimaradiene/abietadiene synthases. Surprisingly, two sets of orthologous PbdiTPSs and PcdiTPSs were monofunctional class I enzymes that lacked functional class II active sites and converted (+)-copalyl diphosphate, but not GGPP, into isopimaradiene and pimaradiene as major products. Diterpene profiles and transcriptome sequences of lodgepole pine and jack pine are consistent with roles for these diTPSs in DRA biosynthesis. The monofunctional class I diTPSs of DRA biosynthesis form a new clade within the gymnosperm-specific TPS-d3 subfamily that evolved from bifunctional diTPS rather than monofunctional enzymes (TPS-c and TPS-e) of gibberellin metabolism. Homology modeling suggested alterations in the class I active site that may have contributed to their functional specialization relative to other conifer diTPSs.

Concepts: Abietic acid, Pinophyta, Lodgepole Pine, Conifer cone, Resin, Pinus, Pinus classification, Pine


Asymmetry in motor patterns is present in a wide variety of animals. Many lateralized behaviors seem to depend on brain asymmetry, as it is the case of different tasks associated to food handling by several bird and mammal species. Here, we analyzed asymmetry in handling behavior of pine cones by red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). Red squirrels devote most of their daily activity to feeding, thus this species constitutes an appropriate model for studying asymmetry in food processing. We aimed to explore 1) the potential lateralization in handling of pine cones by squirrels, 2) the dominant pattern for this behavior (left- vs. right-handed), and 3) whether this pattern varies among populations and depending on the pine tree species available. Results revealed that red squirrels handle pine cones in an asymmetrical way, and that direction of asymmetry varies among populations and seems to be determined more by local influences rather than by the pine tree species.

Concepts: Conifer cone, Tree squirrel, Standard Model, Lateralization of brain function, Pine, Pinophyta, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Mammal


After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) in March 2011, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of the released radionuclides into the surrounding area. We investigated the morphological changes in Japanese fir, a Japanese endemic native conifer, at locations near the F1NPP. Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP showed a significantly increased number of morphological defects, involving deletions of leader shoots of the main axis, compared to a control population far from the F1NPP. The frequency of the defects corresponded to the radioactive contamination levels of the observation sites. A significant increase in deletions of the leader shoots became apparent in those that elongated after the spring of 2012, a year after the accident. These results suggest possibility that the contamination by radionuclides contributed to the morphological defects in Japanese fir trees in the area near the F1NPP.

Concepts: Fir, Uranium, Nuclear power, Nuclear fission, Pinophyta, Nuclear safety, Chernobyl disaster, Radioactive contamination


Although Siberian Trap volcanism is considered a primary driver of the largest extinction in Earth history, the end-Permian crisis, the relationship between these events remains unclear. However, malformations in fossilized gymnosperm pollen from the extinction interval suggest biological stress coinciding with pulsed forest decline. These grains are hypothesized to have been caused by enhanced ultraviolet-B (UV-B) irradiation from volcanism-induced ozone shield deterioration. We tested this proposed mechanism by observing the effects of inferred end-Permian UV-B regimes on pollen development and reproductive success in living conifers. We find that pollen malformation frequencies increase fivefold under high UV-B intensities. Surprisingly, all trees survived but were sterilized under enhanced UV-B. These results support the hypothesis that heightened UV-B stress could have contributed not only to pollen malformation production but also to deforestation during Permian-Triassic crisis intervals. By reducing the fertility of several widespread gymnosperm lineages, pulsed ozone shield weakening could have induced repeated terrestrial biosphere destabilization and food web collapse without exerting a direct “kill” mechanism on land plants or animals. These findings challenge the paradigm that mass extinctions require kill mechanisms and suggest that modern conifer forests may be considerably more vulnerable to anthropogenic ozone layer depletion than expected.

Concepts: Oxygen, Extinction, Dinosaur, Sun, Earth, Pinophyta, Ozone depletion, Plant


Effective point-of-use devices for providing safe drinking water are urgently needed to reduce the global burden of waterborne disease. Here we show that plant xylem from the sapwood of coniferous trees - a readily available, inexpensive, biodegradable, and disposable material - can remove bacteria from water by simple pressure-driven filtration. Approximately 3 cm(3) of sapwood can filter water at the rate of several liters per day, sufficient to meet the clean drinking water needs of one person. The results demonstrate the potential of plant xylem to address the need for pathogen-free drinking water in developing countries and resource-limited settings.

Concepts: Need, Tree, Pinophyta, Wood, Water, Vascular plant, Drinking water, Plant


Two types of ionic liquids, 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolim acetate and 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium lactate, were employed for the direct processing of pine wood into microfibers. The concentration of 5 wt.% of wood in ionic liquids was rated as the most appropriate for electrospinning. The fibers were electrospun into the collector water bath. The final structure varied from individual microfibers to fiber bundles. It was demonstrated that 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium lactate is a powerful solvent and provides the direct transformation of pristine pine wood into the non-wovens.

Concepts: Deep eutectic solvent, Surface tension, Pinophyta, Ionic liquid, Water, Solvent, Liquid, Solution


Several new initiatives have been launched recently to sequence conifer genomes including pines, spruces and Douglas-fir. Owing to the very large genome sizes ranging from 18 to 35 gigabases, sequencing even a single conifer genome had been considered unattainable until the recent throughput increases and cost reductions afforded by next generation sequencers. The purpose of this review is to describe the context for these new initiatives. A knowledge foundation has been acquired in several conifers of commercial and ecological interest through large-scale cDNA analyses, construction of genetic maps and gene mapping studies aiming to link phenotype and genotype. Exploratory sequencing in pines and spruces have pointed out some of the unique properties of these giga-genomes and suggested strategies that may be needed to extract value from their sequencing. The hope is that recent and pending developments in sequencing technology will contribute to rapidly filling the knowledge vacuum surrounding their structure, contents and evolution. Researchers are also making plans to use comparative analyses that will help to turn the data into a valuable resource for enhancing and protecting the world’s conifer forests.

Concepts: Pinophyta, Pinaceae, Human genome, Genome, Evolution, Genetics, DNA, Gene


Pine wilt disease (PWD), a destructive disease for pine trees, is caused by the pine wood nematode (PWN), Bursaphelenchus xylophilus and additional bacteria. In this study, extracts of Zostera marina showed a high nematicidal activity against PWN and some of the bacteria that it carries. Light yellow crystals were obtained from extracts of Z. marina through solvent extraction, followed by chromatography on AB-8 resin and crystallization. The NMR and HPLC analysis showed that the isolated compound was rosmarinic acid (RosA). RosA showed effective nematicidal activity, of which the LC(50) (50% lethal concentration) to PWN at 24 h, 48 h and 72 h was 1.18 mg/g, 1.05 mg/g and 0.95 mg/g, respectively. To get a high yield rate of RosA from Z. marina, single factor experiments and an L(9) (34) orthogonal experiment were performed. This extraction process involved 70% ethanol for 3 h at 40 °C. The extraction dosage was 1:50 (w/v). The highest yield of RosA from Zostera was 3.13 mg/g DW (dried weight). The crude extracts of Zostera marina (10 mg/mL) and RosA (1 mg/mL) also showed inhibitory effects to some bacterial strains carried by PWN: Klebsiella sp., Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Streptomyces sp. and Pantoea agglomerans. The results of these studies provide clues for preparing pesticide to control PWD from Z. marina.

Concepts: Streptomyces, Pine, Finland, Nematodes, Pinophyta, Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, Zostera, Bacteria


In in vitro tests, natural coniferous resin from the Norway spruce (Picea abies) is strongly antifungal. In this observational study, we tested the clinical effectiveness of a lacquer composed of spruce resin for topical treatment of onychomycosis. Thirty-seven patients with clinical diagnosis of onychomycosis were enrolled into the study. All patients used topical resin lacquer treatment daily for 9 months. A mycological culture and potassium hydroxide (KOH) stain were done from nail samples in the beginning and in the end of the study. Treatment was considered effective, if a mycological culture was negative and there was an apparent clinical cure. At study entry, 20 patients (20/37; 54%; 95% CI: 38-70) had a positive mycological culture and/or positive KOH stain for dermatophytes. At study end, the result of 13 patients was negative (13/19; 68%; 95% CI: 48-89). In one case (1/14; 7%; 95% CI: 0-21) the mycological culture was initially negative, but it turned positive during the study period. By 14 compliant patients (14/32; 44%; 95% CI: 27-61), resin lacquer treatment was considered clinically effective: complete healing took place in three cases (9%) and partial healing in 11 cases (85%). The results indicate some evidence of clinical efficacy of the natural coniferous resin used for topical treatment of onychomycosis.

Concepts: Picea, Clinical trial, Norway Spruce, Effectiveness, Onychomycosis, Pinophyta, Christmas tree, Spruce