Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Amateur botanists in Brazil discover a genuflexing plant

15.09.2011
Species exploration using off-the-grid solar energy, Internet, and digital cameras reveals hidden surprises

José Carlos Mendes Santos (a.k.a. Louro) is a handyman in rural northeastern Bahia, Brazil - one of the areas of the world with the highest biodiversity.

Two years ago, he found a tiny, inch-high plant with white-and-pink flowers in the backyards of the off-the-grid house of amateur botanist and local plant collector Alex Popovkin. The little plant was brought home to be grown on a window sill for closer observation. In parallel, work on its identification began. Thanks to solar power and a satellite connection, Popovkin had access to the Internet, and as was his habit, he uploaded some photographs of the plant to Flickr and contacted several taxonomic experts around the globe.

The family (strychnine family, or Loganiaceae) and genus (Spigelia) of the plant were soon established, with a suggestion from a Brazilian botanist that it might be a new species.

A collaboration was started with Lena Struwe, a specialist of the plant's family at Rutgers University, who had previously described a species in the gentian family from the Andes named after Harry Potter (apparating moon-gentian, Macrocarpaea apparata), and another after the Inca tribe (the Inca ring-gentian, Symbolanthus incaicus). More collections were made, photographs uploaded and specimens deposited at the State University at Feira de Santana (HUEFS) in Bahia, while Mari Carmen Molina, a visiting scientist in Struwe's lab from Spain, extracted the plant's DNA. In collaboration with Katherine Mathews from Western Carolina University, it was confirmed that the genus was indeed Spigelia, to which pinkroot, an old North American herbal remedy against intestinal parasites, also belongs.

Only a few miniscule plants were found in the field the first year. They would die each dry season, only to reappear again at the beginning of the rain season. The plant growing on the window sill soon showed a particular and rare characteristic: after fruits were formed, the fruiting branches would bend down, depositing the capsules with seeds on the ground (and sometimes burying them in the soft cover of moss), thereby ensuring that the seeds would end up as close to the mother plant as possible, facilitating its propagation the following season. This phenomenon, called geocarpy, is a rare adaptation to growing in harsh or ephemeral environments. A famous example of geocarpy is the well-known peanut from the legume family that buries its fruits in the ground. The new species, appropriately named Spigelia genuflexa, is described in an open-access paper published this week by the five collaborators in the taxonomic journal PhytoKeys, from where the article can be downloaded for free.

Mr. Popovkin: This is my first botanical publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Hopefully, there will be more to follow. I had since early adolescence felt attraction to plants, especially tropical plants, when working as a volunteer at the greenhouses of the Botanic Garden of the University of St Petersburg, Russia. It took me 30 years to realize my dream of living in the tropics and studying its plants up close. My daily botanizing walks always bring personal discoveries. My help and local fellow collector Louro has also shown great interest in botany.

"It is very easy to think we have found and described most plant species of the world already, but this discovery shows that there are so much left out there without name and recognition", says Struwe and adds, "This discovery shows that the most amazing living things can be found when you least expect it, during times and places when you really aren't looking for something new, and suddenly it is right there in front of you. How many of us haven't had the most brilliant ideas in the shower? The art of taxonomy is finding as well as being able to recognize something as new or different, which is hard when the world is home to millions of species and very few species experts."

This case shows that collaboration between amateurs and professional scientists, using both new molecular and traditional methods and making use of the facilities of the Internet can lead to new discoveries and new efficient ways of documenting the world's biodiversity.

Photographs of Spigelia genuflexa taken by Alex Popovkin are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 2.0) from Flickr.

A link to the Press Release on Pensoft's website, in Portuguese.

Original source: Popovkin AV, Mathews KG, Santos JCM, Molina MC, Struwe L (2011) Spigelia genuflexa (Loganiaceae), a new geocarpic species from the Atlantic forest of northeastern Bahia, Brazil. PhytoKeys 6: 47-65. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.6.1654

Posted by Pensoft Publishers.

Lena Struwe | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rutgers.edu
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/pp-abi091411.php

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Corporate coworking as a driver of innovation

22.11.2017 | Business and Finance

PPPL scientists deliver new high-resolution diagnostic to national laser facility

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>