New research sheds light on why plants change sex

Plants with a particular breeding system change their sex depending on how much light they receive, new scientific research has revealed.

Cranesbill (Pixabay image)

The ability of plants to flower one year as male and the next as female, or vice versa, is well documented in ‘dioecious’ plants, however the causes of this ability to change gender have been largely unexplored in ‘gynodioecious’ plants until now.

Gynodioecy is a breeding system that is found in certain flowering plant species in which female and hermaphroditic plants coexist within a population. Gynodioecy is the evolutionary intermediate stage between hermaphrodite plants (each flower has both male and female parts) and dioecious populations (each plant having either only male or female flowers).

The ability to change sex in response to the environment has been studied extensively in dioecious plants but this new research has revealed that gynodioecious plants also change sex depending on their environment.

The results of a four-year study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, show that the level of light received by the plant has a significant effect on sexual expression and reproductive output. The study found that in habitats with high levels of light, plants were more likely to change their sexual expression, and the researchers believe this is because sex lability (readiness to change) is costly and related to the availability of resources.

Dr Sandra Varga, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, led the research. She explained: “The evolution and maintenance of such sexual polymorphism has been investigated by evolutionary biologists for decades. It is one of the most important developments in the evolution of plant breeding systems. However, understanding the causes and consequences is challenging because so many different factors might be involved in the process of changing from one sex to another.

“Our research clearly showed that sex expression was changeable over the course of the study, and was directly related to light availability.”

Throughout the study, the researchers observed the behaviour of 326 different plants for four years and transplanted them between locations with both high and low light levels to replicate the different environments they may encounter. For example, the wood cranesbill plants used in the study can often be found under dense forest canopies and in meadows and road verges.

The researchers monitored how the sex and reproductive outputs of the plants differed depending on their location, to garner a deeper understanding of how their behaviour is altered by their environment.

The paper is published in the American Journal of Botany and is available to read online.

First year Biology students visit home of Charles Darwin

First year Biology students from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences visit Down House the home of Charles Darwin.

The theme for the field trip was ‘plant adaptation, conservation and evolution’ and spent two days away in Kew.

Students visited the home of Charles Darwin, Kew Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, and the Millennium Seed Bank. They identified different types of plant species and learned how they adapt to many environments, as well as taking part in plant photo competitions and learning about plant conservation programmes.

Down House gave students the chance to learn more about Darwin and his theory of evolution, getting them to think about the impact of his book ‘Origin of Species’ and if it can explain many different species.

A follow-up essay of the field trip counts towards 30% of the module.

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Biology group 1

Life Sciences at Lincoln ranked number 1 in NSS

Life Sciences at Lincoln has ranked number one in the latest National Student Survey!

Our third year students have rated us number one in the UK for Biochemistry, Bioveterinary Science and Animal Behaviour & Welfare, and Zoology in the National Student Survey.

The National Student Survey is completed by final year students and is a measure of how satisfied students are with their university education. These are wonderful results and as a School we are very proud! 

Head of School, Libby John would like to thank the third years who took the time to complete the survey and feed back to us on their time here.

“I think much of our success comes from the fantastic support we get from our student reps who let us know how things are going and how we can improve the experience for all students – so I want to give all our reps a huge thank you.

I look forward to seeing most of you in September – either at graduation as you move on to the next stage in your career or when you are back at Lincoln as returning students.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer in the meantime.”

Read more about the University of Lincoln’s Success in the NSS

 

Life Sciences Undergraduate Showcase

From Life Sciences to Chemistry and Engineering, the University of Lincoln’s College of Science hosts another remarkable showcase of our undergraduate students.

Good luck to everyone on getting back their marks over the next few days.

Here is a little look into a few of our students we spoke to over the two days.

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Zoology student Alexandra Briggs looked at the affect of visitor numbers on the seals at popular viewing site, Donna Nook.

Alex said: “We’ve found that a lot of factors are affecting the seals at Donna Nook and it’s confirming what a lot of people were thinking. The advice to to Donna Nook would be that more and more people are going to come it might be best to put in changes now.

“If the changes work, they can be put in place at other beaches where visitor numbers are a big issue, as some sites have no limitations between us and the seal. People will go up to the seals and pet them, and they run away and leave their pups and they then starve to death, so it can be a huge issue in some places.

“I didn’t just want my research to just be inside, I wanted to be out in the field and doing something I wanted to do.”

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Bioveterinary Science student,Charlotte Carr took up some great work experience at Gatwick Airport with the security dogs. With this interest in mind, she took on the research of looking at dog behaviour levels in the home compared to in a kennel facility.

“Dogs when they were at home and in kennels to see if there’s a difference with their activity, I also compared this to behaviour scores which their owners gave them on their impulsivity, behaviour regulation, aggression and responsiveness.

“I found that as the dog gets older, they get more activity and their impulsivity increases. I also found that females were more impulsive than males and the activity in the kennels increased depending on the breed type, and the impulsivity as well.

“The toy and utility breed type were the most active and the non-working was the least active. The older the dog, the more active. It was strange. We think it was because they’d spent so much time with their owners that they didn’t mind being on their own or in the kennels.”

Charlotte’s findings will help to make improvements on the kennel facilities within Gatwick Airport.

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Jorge Sobral studied the effect of photoperiods on the genitalia of the bruchid beetle.

“I grew them in different light regimes – no light, 12 hours with light and 12 hours in darkness, and I’ve found that photoperiods do affect the size and shape of the genital organs of the beetle.

“I found that beetles grown in half darkness and half-light seem to have the longest parameres, which are in the genitals, for their size. This implies that genetalia may not be a viable way to classify species, so my work kind of contradicts that and says that it might be best to back up with something else too.”

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Looking at a future in wildlife conservation, Chardè Anderson looked at tissue samples of Bottlenose Dolphin species and the possibility of hybrid species.

She said: ‘The university received some tissue samples of Bottlenose Dolphins, and we were looking to see if they belonged to the bottlenose or a hybrid with another species.

“Through a lot of studies, we found there to be a possible one hybrid out of the 24 samples between two different species. Although there did look to be other individuals in the samples to be the same species, but from different regions.”

An amazing array of projects were on show across Life Sciences and we are proud of every one of you. Take a look at our photo album of the two days on Facebook here:

Five paid-for Studentships in Life Sciences on offer! Apply now

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We’re offering a variety of PhD projects across biological sciences including: Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare, Biomedical Sciences, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Evolution and Ecology, Microbiology, Forensic Anthropology, Biology and Zoology.

Of the ten advertised projects, five applicants, on five projects will be selected for funding, contingent upon the strength of the applicants.

Our Studentships are open to UK, EU and Overseas Students, Tuition Fees are included. Students will get a Stipend/Living allowance of £14,296 per annum. You will start 1st October 2016 and the Studentship will last 36 months.

Applications close 1st April – Apply now to not miss out!

 

Take a look at the projects on offer below.

Click staff names to email

1. Linking phenotypes with genotypes for canine chemosensory perception

Contact

Dr Malgorzata Pilot

mpilot@lincoln.ac.uk

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mpilot

 

2. Next generation analyses using next-generation DNA sequencing: testing theory for the population genomics of microbes

Contact Dr Matthew Goddard

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mgoddard

or http://goddardlab.auckland.ac.nz

 

3.  Protein conformational switches

Contact Dr Enrico Ferrari

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/eferrari

 

4. Evaluating resistance mechanisms of the newly discovered antibacterial Texiobactin

Contact Dr Edward Taylor

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/etaylor

 

5. Cell-to-cell communication in the diabetic kidney – keeping the art of conversation alive

Contact Dr Claire Hills

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/chills

 

6. Characterisation of T-cells infiltrating the Type 1 diabetic islet

Contact Dr Michael Christie

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mchristie

 

7. Using virtual reality to investigate ‘protean’ anti-predator behaviour

Contact Dr Tom Pike

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/tpike

 

8. Identifying genome-wide transcriptional determinants of Alzheimer’s disease progression

Contact Dr Humberto Gutierrez

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/hgutierrez

 

9.  State-dependent ageing and senescence across multiple traits

Contact Dr Carl Soulsbury

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/csoulsbury

 

10.  Genetic basis of Morbillivirus resistance in Mediterranean striped dolphins: a 20 year time series immunogenomic and toxicology analysis, with emphasis on the effect of anthropogenic pollutants

Contact Dr Andre Moura

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/amoura

 

Reference: 

Candidates must have a good honours degree, or a relevant Masters degree or equivalent. A minimum IELTS score of 6.0 (or equivalent) will be required, where appropriate.

To apply:

We strongly encourage potential applicants to contact the named main supervisor for each of these to discuss the details of the project and suitability for application before submitting formal expression of interest.

Formal expressions of interest can be made by emailing your CV and a covering letter to the listed supervisor for that project. Please quote Reference: CS2016LS on all correspondence.