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1.  Ontogenetic tissue modification in Malus fruit peduncles: the role of sclereids 
Annals of Botany  2013;113(1):105-118.
Background and Aims
Apple (Malus) fruit peduncles are highly modified stems with limited secondary growth because fruit ripening lasts only one season. They must reliably connect rather heavy fruits to the branch and cope with increasing fruit weight, which induces dynamic stresses under oscillating wind loads. This study focuses on tissue modification of these small, exposed structures during fruit development.
A combination of microscopic, static and dynamic mechanical tests, as well as Raman spectroscopy, was used to study structure–function relationships in peduncles of one cultivar and 12 wild species, representatively chosen from all sections of the genus Malus. Tissue differentiation and ontogenetic changes in mechanical properties of Malus peduncles were observed throughout one growing season and after successive removal of tissues.
Key Results
Unlike in regular stems, the vascular cambium produces mainly phloem during secondary growth. Hence, in addition to a reduced xylem, all species developed a centrally arranged sclerenchyma ring composed of fibres and brachysclereids. Based on differences in cell-wall thickness, and proportions and arrangement of sclereids, two types of peduncle construction could be distinguished. Fibres provide an increased maximum tensile strength and contribute most to the overall axial rigidity of the peduncles. Sclereids contribute insignificantly to peduncle strength; however, despite being shown to have a lower elastic modulus than fibres, they are the most effective tissue in stiffening peduncles against bending.
The experimental data revealed that sclereids originating from cortical parenchyma act as ‘accessory’ cells to enhance proportions of sclerenchyma during secondary growth in peduncles. The mechanism can be interpreted as an adaptation to continuously increasing fruit loads. Under oscillating longitudinal stresses, sclereids may be regarded as regulating elements between maintenance of stiffness and viscous damping, the latter property being attributed to the cortical parenchyma.
PMCID: PMC3864733  PMID: 24287811
Apple; biomechanics; fibres; fruit peduncle; fruit load; functional anatomy; Malus; sclereids; viscous damping
2.  Functional morphology and biomechanics of branch–stem junctions in columnar cacti 
Branching in columnar cacti features morphological and anatomical characteristics specific to the subfamily Cactoideae. The most conspicuous features are the pronounced constrictions at the branch–stem junctions, which are also present in the lignified vascular structures within the succulent cortex. Based on finite-element analyses of ramification models, we demonstrate that these indentations in the region of high flexural and torsional stresses are not regions of structural weakness (e.g. allowing vegetative propagation). On the contrary, they can be regarded as anatomical adaptations to increase the stability by fine-tuning the stress state and stress directions in the junction along prevalent fibre directions. Biomimetic adaptations improving the functionality of ramifications in technical components, inspired, in particular, by the fine-tuned geometrical shape and arrangement of lignified strengthening tissues of biological role models, might contribute to the development of alternative concepts for branched fibre-reinforced composite structures within a limited design space.
PMCID: PMC3813340  PMID: 24132310
columnar cacti; functional anatomy; branching; finite-element analysis; biomimetics
3.  Aristolochia quangbinhensis (Aristolochiaceae), a new species from Central Vietnam  
PhytoKeys  2014;51-59.
Aristolochia quangbinhensis T.V. Do, a new species from Central Vietnam, is described and illustrated. According to morphology, the species belongs to Aristolochia subgenus Isotrema. A detailed description, along with line drawings, photographs, ecology, distribution, conservation status as well as a comparison to morphologically similar species is provided.
PMCID: PMC3921559  PMID: 24526848
Aristolochia; Aristolochia quangbinhensis; Aristolochiaceae; Isotrema; new species; Vietnam
4.  Single-Copy Nuclear Genes Place Haustorial Hydnoraceae within Piperales and Reveal a Cretaceous Origin of Multiple Parasitic Angiosperm Lineages 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79204.
Extreme haustorial parasites have long captured the interest of naturalists and scientists with their greatly reduced and highly specialized morphology. Along with the reduction or loss of photosynthesis, the plastid genome often decays as photosynthetic genes are released from selective constraint. This makes it challenging to use traditional plastid genes for parasitic plant phylogenetics, and has driven the search for alternative phylogenetic and molecular evolutionary markers. Thus, evolutionary studies, such as molecular clock-based age estimates, are not yet available for all parasitic lineages. In the present study, we extracted 14 nuclear single copy genes (nSCG) from Illumina transcriptome data from one of the “strangest plants in the world”, Hydnora visseri (Hydnoraceae). A ∼15,000 character molecular dataset, based on all three genomic compartments, shows the utility of nSCG for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships in parasitic lineages. A relaxed molecular clock approach with the same multi-locus dataset, revealed an ancient age of ∼91 MYA for Hydnoraceae. We then estimated the stem ages of all independently originated parasitic angiosperm lineages using a published dataset, which also revealed a Cretaceous origin for Balanophoraceae, Cynomoriaceae and Apodanthaceae. With the exception of Santalales, older parasite lineages tend to be more specialized with respect to trophic level and have lower species diversity. We thus propose the “temporal specialization hypothesis” (TSH) implementing multiple independent specialization processes over time during parasitic angiosperm evolution.
PMCID: PMC3827129  PMID: 24265760
5.  Characterization of the basal angiosperm Aristolochia fimbriata: a potential experimental system for genetic studies 
BMC Plant Biology  2013;13:13.
Previous studies in basal angiosperms have provided insight into the diversity within the angiosperm lineage and helped to polarize analyses of flowering plant evolution. However, there is still not an experimental system for genetic studies among basal angiosperms to facilitate comparative studies and functional investigation. It would be desirable to identify a basal angiosperm experimental system that possesses many of the features found in existing plant model systems (e.g., Arabidopsis and Oryza).
We have considered all basal angiosperm families for general characteristics important for experimental systems, including availability to the scientific community, growth habit, and membership in a large basal angiosperm group that displays a wide spectrum of phenotypic diversity. Most basal angiosperms are woody or aquatic, thus are not well-suited for large scale cultivation, and were excluded. We further investigated members of Aristolochiaceae for ease of culture, life cycle, genome size, and chromosome number. We demonstrated self-compatibility for Aristolochia elegans and A. fimbriata, and transformation with a GFP reporter construct for Saruma henryi and A. fimbriata. Furthermore, A. fimbriata was easily cultivated with a life cycle of just three months, could be regenerated in a tissue culture system, and had one of the smallest genomes among basal angiosperms. An extensive multi-tissue EST dataset was produced for A. fimbriata that includes over 3.8 million 454 sequence reads.
Aristolochia fimbriata has numerous features that facilitate genetic studies and is suggested as a potential model system for use with a wide variety of technologies. Emerging genetic and genomic tools for A. fimbriata and closely related species can aid the investigation of floral biology, developmental genetics, biochemical pathways important in plant-insect interactions as well as human health, and various other features present in early angiosperms.
PMCID: PMC3621149  PMID: 23347749
6.  Chasing the hare - Evaluating the phylogenetic utility of a nuclear single copy gene region at and below species level within the species rich group Peperomia (Piperaceae) 
The rapidly increasing number of available plant genomes opens up almost unlimited prospects for biology in general and molecular phylogenetics in particular. A recent study took advantage of this data and identified a set of nuclear genes that occur in single copy in multiple sequenced angiosperms. The present study is the first to apply genomic sequence of one of these low copy genes, agt1, as a phylogenetic marker for species-level phylogenetics. Its utility is compared to the performance of several coding and non-coding chloroplast loci that have been suggested as most applicable for this taxonomic level. As a model group, we chose Tildenia, a subgenus of Peperomia (Piperaceae), one of the largest plant genera. Relationships are particularly difficult to resolve within these species rich groups due to low levels of polymorphisms and fast or recent radiation. Therefore, Tildenia is a perfect test case for applying new phylogenetic tools.
We show that the nuclear marker agt1, and in particular the agt1 introns, provide a significantly increased phylogenetic signal compared to chloroplast markers commonly used for low level phylogenetics. 25% of aligned characters from agt1 intron sequence are parsimony informative. In comparison, the introns and spacer of several common chloroplast markers (trnK intron, trnK-psbA spacer, ndhF-rpl32 spacer, rpl32-trnL spacer, psbA-trnH spacer) provide less than 10% parsimony informative characters. The agt1 dataset provides a deeper resolution than the chloroplast markers in Tildenia.
Single (or very low) copy nuclear genes are of immense value in plant phylogenetics. Compared to other nuclear genes that are members of gene families of all sizes, lab effort, such as cloning, can be kept to a minimum. They also provide regions with different phylogenetic content deriving from coding and non-coding parts of different length. Thus, they can be applied to a wide range of taxonomic levels from family down to population level. As more plant genomes are sequenced, we will obtain increasingly precise information about which genes return to single copy most rapidly following gene duplication and may be most useful across a wide range of plant groups.
PMCID: PMC3252395  PMID: 22151585
7.  Smart Skin Patterns Protect Springtails 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25105.
Springtails, arthropods who live in soil, in decaying material, and on plants, have adapted to demanding conditions by evolving extremely effective and robust anti-adhesive skin patterns. However, details of these unique properties and their structural basis are still unknown. Here we demonstrate that collembolan skin can resist wetting by many organic liquids and at elevated pressures. We show that the combination of bristles and a comb-like hexagonal or rhombic mesh of interconnected nanoscopic granules distinguish the skin of springtails from anti-adhesive plant surfaces. Furthermore, the negative overhang in the profile of the ridges and granules were revealed to be a highly effective, but as yet neglected, design principle of collembolan skin. We suggest an explanation for the non-wetting characteristics of surfaces consisting of such profiles irrespective of the chemical composition. Many valuable opportunities arise from the translation of the described comb-like patterns and overhanging profiles of collembolan skin into man-made surfaces that combine stability against wear and friction with superior non-wetting and anti-adhesive characteristics.
PMCID: PMC3184130  PMID: 21980383
8.  Verhuellia is a segregate lineage in Piperaceae: more evidence from flower, fruit and pollen morphology, anatomy and development 
Annals of Botany  2010;105(5):677-688.
Background and Aims
The perianthless Piperales, i.e. Saururaceae and Piperaceae, have simple reduced flowers strikingly different from the other families of the order (e.g. Aristolochiaceae). Recent molecular phylogenies proved Verhuellia to be the first branch in Piperaceae, making it a promising subject to study the detailed structure and development of the flowers. Based on recently collected material, the first detailed study since 1872 was conducted with respect to morphology, anatomy and development of the inflorescence, pollen ultrastructure and fruit anatomy.
Original scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and light microscopy (LM) observations on Verhuellia lunaria were compared with those of Piperaceae, Saururaceae and fossils.
Key Results
The inflorescence is an indeterminate spike with sessile flowers, each in the axil of a bract, developing in acropetal, helical succession. Flowers consist of two (occasionally three) stamens with basifixed tetrasporangiate anthers and latrorse dehiscence by a longitudinal slit. The gynoecium lacks a style but has 3–4 stigma branches and a single, basal orthotropous and unitegmic ovule. The fruit is a drupe with large multicellular epidermal protuberances. The pollen is very small, inaperturate and areolate, with hemispherical microechinate exine elements.
Despite the superficial similarities with different genera of Piperaceae and Saururaceae, the segregate position of Verhuellia revealed by molecular phylogenetics is supported by morphological, developmental and anatomical data presented here. Unitegmic ovules and inaperturate pollen, which are synapomorphies for the genus Peperomia, are also present in Verhuellia.
PMCID: PMC2859909  PMID: 20237114
Verhuellia lunaria; Piperales; Peperomia; Appomattoxia ancistrophora; floral development; floral anatomy; fruit morphology; pollen morphology; unitegmic ovule; inaperturate pollen
9.  Superhydrophobicity in perfection: the outstanding properties of the lotus leaf 
Lotus leaves have become an icon for superhydrophobicity and self-cleaning surfaces, and have led to the concept of the ‘Lotus effect’. Although many other plants have superhydrophobic surfaces with almost similar contact angles, the lotus shows better stability and perfection of its water repellency. Here, we compare the relevant properties such as the micro- and nano-structure, the chemical composition of the waxes and the mechanical properties of lotus with its competitors. It soon becomes obvious that the upper epidermis of the lotus leaf has developed some unrivaled optimizations. The extraordinary shape and the density of the papillae are the basis for the extremely reduced contact area between surface and water drops. The exceptional dense layer of very small epicuticular wax tubules is a result of their unique chemical composition. The mechanical robustness of the papillae and the wax tubules reduce damage and are the basis for the perfection and durability of the water repellency. A reason for the optimization, particularly of the upper side of the lotus leaf, can be deduced from the fact that the stomata are located in the upper epidermis. Here, the impact of rain and contamination is higher than on the lower epidermis. The lotus plant has successfully developed an excellent protection for this delicate epistomatic surface of its leaves.
PMCID: PMC3148040  PMID: 21977427
epicuticular wax; leaf surface; Lotus effect; papillae; water repellency

Results 1-9 (9)