Seeds of Change; Mother Knows Best

Posted in American bellflower, Biology at the University of Virginia, Evolutionary biologist, Galloway, Jacob Canon, Mountain Lake Biological Station, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia, adaptation, environmental conditions, environmental science, environmental scientist, genetic, maternal effects at 12:36 pm by Jacob Canon

Today’s show, taken from an article published on the Oscar web site written by Melissa Maki, is about evolutionary biologist Laura Galloway. Galloway’s work indicates that maternal plants give cues to their offspring helping them adapt to their environment.

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “I didn’t fall far from the tree.” Well, this can be especially important in the plant world. When habitat changes, animals migrate, but how do immobile organisms like plants cope when faced with alterations to their environment? This is an increasingly important question in light of new environmental conditions brought on by global climate change.

Evolutionary biologist Laura Galloway, an associate professor of Biology at the University of Virginia, recently completed a study of the American bellflower. This University of Virginia study, published in the Nov. 16 issue of The Journal Science, demonstrated that plants grown in the same setting as their maternal plant performed almost three and a half times better than those raised in a different environment. Indicating that maternal plants give cues to their offspring that help them adapt to their environmental condition.

What led to this line of inquiry was, a number of years ago Galloway observed that plants that had experienced drought had smaller seeds than those that had not. It was this highly visible physiological change within only one generation that intrigued her. This focused Galloway’s research on the transmission of environmental information between maternal plants and their offspring.

The American bellflower is a native wildflower that commonly grows in both shaded areas and areas that receive full sunlight for at least part of the day. Conducted in a natural habitat at the University of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station in Southwest Virginia, Galloway planted some seeds in light conditions similar to their maternal plants and some in different light. She found that plants growing in the same setting as their maternal plant outperformed those planted in a different environment.

Since plant adaptation is typically studied on a permanent, genetic level rather than in direct response to environmental conditions, Galloway’s insights are unique. Seeds typically fall close to their maternal plant, they grow in a similar environment. But, when seeds are dispersed to different environments, Galloway found that the plants may suffer for one generation, but as long as the seeds of those plants grow locally, their offspring will recover.

Galloway said, “We found a temporary mechanism of adaptation to local environmental conditions. Historically, maternal effects have been viewed as a complicating factor — an inconvenience. But we have found that they can dramatically influence the performance of an individual.

You’ve been listening to the Oscar Show… I’m Jacob Canon. I would like to thank all of you who have joined me this year exploring many of the topics of research at the University of Virginia.

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