Biology News Round-Up 21/11/16

This month Jason takes control of the News Round-up – reporting on all the plant-based revelations that have been occurring in the last week or so, including: Helpful lichen pointing to climate change, Marijuana breaking hearts and how a bag of salad could make you very ill…

Genetic Modification Successfully Boosts Photosynthesis

You may have thought that improving the efficiency of the photosynthesis process in plants would be the first thing on any scientist’s agenda, however, this groundbreaking step forward in plant production has only just been made by a research team at the University of Illinois. Targeting the tobacco plant’s light sheltering process, called nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ), Dr. Stephen Long and his team successfully recorded a 20% increase in yield – quite the feat!

Graphic by Julie McMahon

Graphic by Julie McMahon

Although the American team is yet to test this process on a food stuff, such as corn, it’s already been suggested that the knowledge learned here could be applied to the problem of world hunger (an issue which is predicted to worsen within the next 30 years). On the back of this success, Long and his team have now been offered funding from the Gates Foundation – allowing them to begin work on major staple foods such as soy beans, rice and cassava.

Sensitive Lichens Are Blowing Whistle On Climate Change

ScienceNews, this week, have a wonderful article well worth reading on how ecologists are studying the biological states of various species of lichens, around forests in Portland. There are hundreds of species of lichens stuck to the trees, rocks and undergrowth of the Forests in the US; biologists around the country are just starting to notice the correlation between their health and the air-quality of the environment they live in.


Photo from

Linda Geiser makes regular trips into the Forests of Portland. As manager of the Forestry Service’s air-quality program, she records the state of particular species of lichen that are known to visibly show signs of deterioration when introduced to pollution. It’s hoped that by continually studying and recording the state of these parks, the Forestry Service will be able to build up a history of the air-quality in their 193 million acres.

Smoking Marijuana Could Break Your Heart

Although cannabis has recently seen wide-spread decriminalisation in many American States, such as Massachusetts and Washington, there is still a lot we’re yet to learn about the long term effects of smoking it. In a recent study, conducted in part by scientists from St. Luke’s University in Pennsylvania, it was found that cases of stress cardiomyopathy (or ‘broken heart syndrome’ as it’s otherwise known) were much higher in cannabis users, compared to those that choose not to partake.


Presenting his findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, Dr Sing stressed that if you are a regular marijuana smoker and are developing symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, then you should visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Salmonella enterica Loves Pre-Cut Salad

The University of Leicester has discovered that ‘small amounts of damage’ to salad leaves, such as you would find in a pre-cut bag of salad at a supermarket, offer ideal conditions for the growth of salmonella enterica. Exposure to this microbe can cause severe food poisoning to the unlucky victim – lumping them with 12-72 hours worth of vomiting and diarrhoea.


Research published in November’s edition of Applied and Environmental Microbiology has shown that liquid, trapped with salad leaves in plastic bags, is an ideal home for microbes to multiply – with Salmonella bacteria multiplying from 100 to 100,000 in the space of five-days (the usual refrigeration time for salad products).

Maybe just buy and cut your own salad from now on?