Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Trends in plant science


After the ice caps, tropical forests are globally the most threatened terrestrial environments. Modern trees are not just witnesses to growing contemporary threats but also legacies of past human activity. Here, we review the use of dendrochronology, radiocarbon analysis, stable isotope analysis, and DNA analysis to examine ancient tree management. These methods exploit the fact that living trees record information on environmental and anthropogenic selective forces during their own and past generations of growth, making trees living archaeological ‘sites’. The applicability of these methods across prehistoric, historic, and industrial periods means they have the potential to detect evolving anthropogenic threats and can be used to set conservation priorities in rapidly vanishing environments.


It is well documented that ancient sickle harvesting led to tough rachises, but the other seed dispersal properties in crop progenitors are rarely discussed. The first steps toward domestication are evolutionary responses for the recruitment of humans as dispersers. Seed dispersal-based mutualism evolved from heavy human herbivory or seed predation. Plants that evolved traits to support human-mediated seed dispersal express greater fitness in increasingly anthropogenic ecosystems. The loss of dormancy, reduction in seed coat thickness, increased seed size, pericarp density, and sugar concentration all led to more-focused seed dispersal through seed saving and sowing. Some of the earliest plants to evolve domestication traits had weak seed dispersal processes in the wild, often due to the extinction of animal dispersers or short-distance mechanical dispersal.


Volatile compounds and extrafloral nectar are common defenses of wild plants; however, in crops they bear an as-yet underused potential for biological control of pests and diseases. Odor emission and nectar secretion are multigene traits in wild plants, and thus form difficult targets for breeding. Furthermore, domestication has changed the capacity of crops to express these traits. We propose that breeding crops for an enhanced capacity for tritrophic interactions and volatile-mediated direct resistance to herbivores and pathogens can contribute to environmentally-friendly and sustainable agriculture. Natural plant volatiles with antifungal or repellent properties can serve as direct resistance agents. In addition, volatiles mediating tritrophic interactions can be combined with nectar-based food rewards for carnivores to boost indirect plant defense.

Concepts: Agriculture, Plant, Predation, Animal, Organic farming, Livestock, Volatile, Plant defense against herbivory


Sustainable agriculture in response to increasing demands for food depends on development of high-yielding crops with high nutritional value that require minimal intervention during growth. To date, the focus has been on changing plants by introducing genes that impart new properties, which the plants and their ancestors never possessed. By contrast, we suggest another potentially beneficial and perhaps less controversial strategy that modern plant biotechnology may adopt. This approach, which broadens earlier approaches to reverse breeding, aims to furnish crops with lost properties that their ancestors once possessed in order to tolerate adverse environmental conditions. What molecular techniques are available for implementing such rewilding? Are the strategies legally, socially, economically, and ethically feasible? These are the questions addressed in this review.

Concepts: Agriculture, Molecular biology, Fungus, Food security, Breeding, Green Revolution, Plant breeding, Agronomy


In claiming that plants have consciousness, ‘plant neurobiologists’ have consistently glossed over the remarkable degree of structural and functional complexity that the brain had to evolve for consciousness to emerge. Here, we outline a new hypothesis proposed by Feinberg and Mallat for the evolution of consciousness in animals. Based on a survey of the brain anatomy, functional complexity, and behaviors of a broad spectrum of animals, criteria were established for the emergence of consciousness. The only animals that satisfied these criteria were the vertebrates (including fish), arthropods (e.g., insects, crabs), and cephalopods (e.g., octopuses, squids). In light of Feinberg and Mallat’s analysis, we consider the likelihood that plants, with their relative organizational simplicity and lack of neurons and brains, have consciousness to be effectively nil.


Capsaicinoids are metabolites responsible for the appealing pungency of Capsicum (chili pepper) species. The completion of the Capsicum annuum genome has sparked new interest into the development of biotechnological applications involving the manipulation of pungency levels. Pungent dishes are already part of the traditional cuisine in many countries, and numerous health benefits and industrial applications are associated to capsaicinoids. This raises the question of how to successfully produce more capsaicinoids, whose biosynthesis is strongly influenced by genotype-environment interactions in fruits of Capsicum. In this Opinion article we propose that activating the capsaicinoid biosynthetic pathway in a more amenable species such as tomato could be the next step in the fascinating story of pungent crops.


Phototropism enables plants to orient growth towards the direction of light and thereby maximizes photosynthesis in low-light environments. In angiosperms, blue-light photoreceptors called phototropins are primarily involved in sensing the direction of light. Phytochromes and cryptochromes (sensing red/far-red and blue light, respectively) also modulate asymmetric hypocotyl growth, leading to phototropism. Interactions between different light-signaling pathways regulating phototropism occur in cryptogams and angiosperms. In this review, we focus on the molecular mechanisms underlying the co-action between photosensory systems in the regulation of hypocotyl phototropism in Arabidopsis thaliana. Recent studies have shown that phytochromes and cryptochromes enhance phototropism by controlling the expression of important regulators of phototropin signaling. In addition, phytochromes may also regulate growth towards light via direct interaction with the phototropins.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, Arabidopsis, Regulation, Phototropism, Phototropin, Cryptochrome


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a novel coronavirus responsible for an ongoing human pandemic (COVID-19). There is a massive international effort underway to develop diagnostic reagents, vaccines, and antiviral drugs in a bid to slow down the spread of the disease and save lives. One part of that international effort involves the research community working with plants, bringing researchers from all over the world together with commercial enterprises to achieve the rapid supply of protein antigens and antibodies for diagnostic kits, and scalable production systems for the emergency manufacturing of vaccines and antiviral drugs. Here, we look at some of the ways in which plants can and are being used in the fight against COVID-19.


Medical imaging techniques are rapidly expanding in the field of plant sciences. Positron emission tomography (PET) is advancing as a powerful functional imaging technique to decipher in vivo the function of xylem water flow (with (15)O or (18)F), phloem sugar flow (with (11)C or (18)F), and the importance of their strong coupling. However, much remains to be learned about how water flow and sugar distribution are coordinated in intact plants, both under present and future climate regimes. We propose to use PET analysis of plants (plant-PET) to visualize and generate these missing data about integrated xylem and phloem transport. These insights are crucial to understanding how a given environment will affect plant physiological processes and growth.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Plant, Water, Medical imaging, Positron emission tomography, Cell wall, Vascular plant, Meristem


Genome mapping produces fingerprints of DNA sequences to construct a physical map of the whole genome. It provides contiguous, long-range information that complements and, in some cases, replaces sequencing data. Recent advances in genome-mapping technology will better allow researchers to detect large (>1kbp) structural variations between plant genomes. Some molecular and informatics complications need to be overcome for this novel technology to achieve its full utility. This technology will be useful for understanding phenotype responses due to DNA rearrangements and will yield insights into genome evolution, particularly in polyploids. In this review, we outline recent advances in genome-mapping technology, including the processes required for data collection and analysis, and applications in plant comparative genomics.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Organism, Human Genome Project, Genome, Genomics, The Evolution of the Genome