Friday 21 September was Culture Night in Cork, and many venues opened their doors for the evening to show their activities.
The School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) in UCC was also open. Some 450 visitors were able to get close to hedgehogs, shark jaws, lava, amazing plants and fossils. Many students explained the research project they are working on.
The display of the AQUASUS project in the glass houses explained how duckweed can be used to treat wastewater from fish farms, after which it can be used as animal feed.
Indoors the project on the Impacts of Microplastics in Irish Freshwater (IMP) explained the problem of small pieces of plastic. Many people know about plastic in our oceans, but it causes problems in our rivers as well.
On Monday 3 September minister John Halligan T.D., Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, visited the School of BEES, UCC. We were delighted to show him details of our research for the AQUASUS project. AQUASUS looks at the natural ability of duckweed and algae to thrive in and purify polluted water, producing both clean water for fish farms and a supply of animal feed, as duckweed and algae are edible and high in protein.
The project is funded by European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Congratulations to Darren Reidy who defended his PhD thesis on July 24, 2018. Darren’s research focused on the question why some aquatic plants become highly invasive outside their natural distribution area. This is an important question as alien aquatic plants are a major threat to biodiversity and a considerable amount of money is spent on their management and control. Being able to recognise potentially invasive species, before they are widely distributed in their new environment, may facilitate management, and reduce management costs.
In his PhD research, Darren mapped the distribution of invasive, alien aquatic plants in county Cork, Ireland. A shocking observation was that more than 50% of water bodies in Co. Cork contain at least one alien, invasive plant species. This number is nearly twice as high as anticipated.
Darren’s PhD study also emphasised the ease with which many aquatic alien plants can spread. In some cases pieces of stem material as short as 1 cm are highly viable. This emphasises the importance of good hygiene for those involved in fishing, boating, diving and other water sports as many aquatic plants can demonstrate impressive clonal growth from small propagules.
A scientifically exciting part of Darren’s thesis, that is however quite sobering from a water management perspective, is the genetic study of the genus Myriophyllum in Ireland. This work which was in close collaboration with Ryan Thum at Montana State University, showed that traditional taxonomic analysis might not be enough to identify invasive alien species in Ireland. In fact, what appeared as Myriophyllum aquaticum comprised several further species, some of which are of major concern as invasive aliens.
Darren’s work emphasises the importance of both early discovery, and correct identification of invasive aquatic plants, as once established, these species can spread rapidly from small propagules, and are notoriously difficult to eradicate.
Professor Marcel Jansen has been awarded a prestigious SFI Investigator award for work on UV‑emitting LEDs.
At a ceremony in Dublin, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), formally announced the awards in the presence of Minister John Halligan T.D., Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development. The Minister expressed his strong support for Science and Ireland, and in his speech emphasised the importance of teaching the STEM topics across the entire curriculum from primary school on wards.
The project led by Professor Jansen is entitled “Exploiting narrow‑band UV‑LEDs for Sustainable, Innovative, Technology‑Enabled Cropping (UV‑SINTEC)”. UV‑SINTEC is a joint project between Professor Marcel Jansen (School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences -BEES) and Dr Alan Morrison (Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering -EEE). UV‑SINTEC will exploit novel ultraviolet (UV)‑emitting LEDs to pioneer a new form of precision agriculture. UV light can improve crop quality in terms of nutritional quality, plant architecture and resistance to pests. This has positive impacts on the sustainability of food production, and human health and well‑being. The SFI‑funded study will develop state‑of‑the‑art LED technology that will enable manipulation of UV doses and spectra, and advance our understanding of how plants respond positively to UV wavelengths. This has not been possible until now due to the limitations of current UV technologies. The pioneering combination of electronic engineering and plant biology will generate innovative technology enabling the horticultural industry to sustainably grow crops with enhanced quality.
The project which will start 1/12/2017 will initially employ 6 new researchers (post graduate, post doctoral, or research assistant) but further spin‑offs, both commercial and academic, are expected.
In the most recent issue of the Duckweed Forum, Marcel Jansen, with co-workers Neil Coughlan, Simona Paolacci, Ronan Bonfield, and Tom Kelly summarised some of their recent work on duckweed dispersal (ISCDRA Duckweed Forum issue #17, 2017-04). The paper “Flying duck(weed)s” can be downloaded as part of this issue of Duckweed Forum from http://lemnapedia.org/wiki/Duckweed_Forum#2017-04.
Duckweed Forum is a very attractive bulletin, published by ISCDRA. The “International Steering Committee on Duckweed Research and Applications” (ISCDRA) is an organisation of duckweed researchers and users, and its aim is to strengthen and synergistically connect duckweed academic research with the application communities, and to educate and increase public awareness about the importance and potential of duckweeds for a more sustainable future. As part of its activities, ISCDRA regulates the international registration of duckweed clones, and publishes the “Duckweed Forum”.
Marked differences in physiological and morphological traits have been found between different species of Lemnaceae, and between different clones of species. Traits like relative growth rates, salt tolerance, and starch content can vary a lot. This makes different clones and/or species more suitable for some applications than others. This also triggers the question, how to prevent the mixing of “undesirable” species or clones with selected Lemnaceae when these are grown under outdoor conditions for applications such water remediation. Perhaps more fundamentally it triggers the question, how do duckweeds disperse?
In the case of Lemnaceae, it has been argued that rapid drying out of fronds will limit the distance of dispersal, and that the frequency of transport will be low. However, the reality appears different. Neil Coughlan developed a simple system to quantify dispersal of L. minor. Quite surprisingly, Neil observed a total of 67 separate dispersal events (transfer of at least one frond) over a period of 20 weeks, and across 6 replicate stake and bowl structures. In total 156 colonies comprising 317 fronds were found to be transferred to receiving bowls in a relatively short period (full details see Coughlan et al., 2017), and this was attributed to birds. The question remains, however, over what distances Lemnaceae can be dispersed, a question that focusses heavily on desiccation tolerance of the plants.
Lemna minuta taken out of the aquatic medium was found to have lost viability after just 90 minutes at a Relative Humidity (RH) of 44% and a temperature of 21˚C (Coughlan et al., 2015). At a slightly higher RH of 58% (T = 23˚C) Lemna minuta still displayed some viability after 4 hours out of the aquatic medium (Coughlan et al., 2015). Neil Coughlan’s research showed that between the feathers near the posterior neck of a mallard duck, the RH is around 65% and the temperature 23˚C. Near the inner crural (upper part of the leg), the RH is even higher at around 77% with a temperature of 24˚C. Interestingly, the downy feathers of the inner crural were also found to retain entangled Lemnaceae fronds more effectively than areas of less downy plumage, such as the back of the neck. All in all, we reckon that Lemna minuta can be entangled between feathers, and survive flights of up to four hour’s duration. Given an average speed for mallards of 65 km/h-1, we argue that duckweed dispersal over distances of up to 250km is realistic, although much shorter distances (< 50km) are likely more common. This underlines the mobility of Lemnaceae.
So where does that leave the duckweed industry? There are two practical considerations for Lemnaceae cultivation systems:
(1) preventive steps need to be taken if one wants to avoid bird-mediated contamination of an outdoor Lemnaceae culture (e.g. dilution of a selected clone by non-selected, native clones)
(2) preventive steps need to be taken to avoid introduction of selected alien species or clones into the local environment.
At present, substantial efforts are involved in control of Landoltia punctata in Florida USA, where this is an alien, invasive species. Similarly, Lemna minuta is the focus of management efforts in various European countries. There is absolutely no evidence that the introduction of L. punctata in Florida, or L. minuta in Europe is associated with cultivation of these species by the Lemnaceae industry. Nevertheless, the industry needs to adopt a responsible approach when cultivating alien species of Lemnaceae, and prevent their spread in to the surrounding environment in order to maintain the positive public perception of duckweed applications as being eco-friendly and sustainable.
Coughlan N.E., Kelly T.C., Jansen M.A.K., 2015. Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos)-mediated dispersal of Lemnaceae: a contributing factor in the spread of invasive Lemna minuta? Plant Biology17, 108–114.
Coughlan, N.E., Kelly, T.C. and Jansen, M.A.K., 2017. “Step by step”: high frequency short-distance epizoochorous dispersal of aquatic macrophytes. Biological Invasions19, 625-634.
A second edition has been published of Sergey Shabala’s popular book on plant stress physiology. The revised text contains, amongst others, chapters on heavy metal toxicity (White & Pongrac), salinity stress (Shabala and Munns), flooding stress (Pucciariello & Perata), drought stress (Manavalan & Nguyen), chilling stress (Ruelland) and reactive oxygen species (Demidchik).
Plant stress terminology
Prof Marcel Jansen and Dr Geert Potters contributed an introductory chapter on the terminology of plant stress response, citing Hans Selye who stated “everybody knows what stress is and nobody knows what it is”. The authors state that “there is too much variation in the way in which plant stress researchers use and understand terminology such as stress, stressor, acclimation and adaptation. This causes ambiguity, and impedes scientific progress.
Moreover, there is a lack of recognition that plant stress responses comprise a mixture of eustress and distress, and that this mixture depends on the dose of the stressor, as well as on exposure kinetics. Thus, without appropriate calibration of stress-conditions, contradictory data can be produced that are of limited use for the understanding of plant stress responses. Selye, Levitt, Lichtenthaler and Tsimilli-Michael have provided theoretical frameworks defining stress, and these frameworks can be used to place molecular, biochemical or physiological data in the appropriate context. The theoretical stress frameworks have demonstrated that in the plant-world stress is more than just a clinical condition. Rather, stress-conditions are important drivers that help a plant to perceive the outside environment, to harmonise itself with it and thus to optimise growth and development”
Prof Jansen contributed a further chapter on plant UV-responses, summarising how “following the discovery of ozone layer depletion in the late 1980s, large numbers of studies investigated the effects of ambient and/or enhanced levels of ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation on plants, animals, humans and micro-organisms.
Initial studies reported severe, inhibitory UV effects on plant growth and development, and these were associated with damage to genetic material and the photosynthetic machinery. This led to a strong perception that UV-radiation is harmful for plants. Since that time, a conceptual U-turn has taken place in the way that UV-B effects are perceived. Under realistic UV-B exposure conditions, accumulation of UV-mediated damage is a relatively rare event.
Instead, it is now recognized that UV-B is predominantly an environmental regulator that controls cellular, metabolic, developmental and stress-protection processes in plants through a dedicated UV-B photoreceptor. UV-B regulated signalling pathways control, amongst others, expression of 100’s of genes, the biochemical make-up and the morphology of plants and this, in turn, can alter the nutritional value, pest and disease tolerance, sexual reproduction, and hardiness of plants and plant tissues. As a consequence, UV-B radiation can impact on trophic relationships and ecosystem function, but is also a potentially valuable tool for sustainable agriculture”.
Plant Stress Physiology, 2017, Edited by S Shabala, CABI publishers; ISBN-13:978 1 78064 729 6
Congratulations to Neil Coughlan on his latest article, published in Freshwater Biology. The title of the review paper is “Up, up and away: bird-mediated ectozoochorous dispersal between aquatic environments”. The paper can be freely accessed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/fwb.12894/full.
One of the article’s accompanying figures was selected for the cover of this issue of Freshwater Biology: