In June 2015 Land Institute (Salina, KS) hosted a terrific meeting to discuss broad issues related to sustainable agriculture in the context of an ecological world view. It was a wonderful, diverse meeting with healthy discussions ranging from philosophy to history to science and everything in between. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate! Additional photos are available here.
With spring and the return of lovely greenery, so returns the plant collecting season! Expert plant collector and Miller lab friend, Mary Merello, and I are on the road completing what I have termed "the southern loop." This phrase refers to the 10 day trek we will make to visit populations of Vitis rupestris, the rock grape, that grow in south central United States, in the absence of V. riparia. Our mission is to make representative collections of populations of V. rupestris and any co-occurring Vitis from the areas of Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas), natural areas near Del Rio (Texas), Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma), and Pole Cat Creek drainage (Oklahoma).
The first stop on our itinerary was Ouachita National Forest. Unfortunately, heavy rains prior to our visit flooded the normally dry creek beds that Vitis rupestris prefers to inhabit. Thankfully, though, we were able to find some V. rupestris and some of its relatives among the beautiful natural areas of this part of Arkansas.
Today we left Arkansas for the Lone Star State. First on our list (after some delicious bbq lunch) was a trip to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). There, we were amazed by a beautiful, ecologically friendly facility. Staff members treated us to a tour of the facility, allowed us access to their impressive collections, and provided us with valuable collection information and connections. After our fruitful visit, BRIT staff ethnobotanist/outreach specialist Karen C. Hall invited us to survey the impressive Vitis diversity surrounding her home.
Next we had further south, down to Del Rio in search of Texas rock grapes! And with any luck, we'll find some delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, too.
Wes Jackson, Founder and President of The Land Institute, visits Saint Louis University and the Missouri Botanical Garden
Last week we were delighted to welcome Dr. Wes Jackson, Founder and President of The Land Institute, to Saint Louis University (SLU) and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Wes' visit was sponsored by the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability. Many thanks go to the Center for Sustainability, the SLU Department of Biology and the Missouri Botanical Garden for helping to host Wes' visit!
The primary goal of The Land Institute is "to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops." Although almost all of our crops were domesticated thousands of years ago, herbaceous perennials are not well-represented among domesticates (see Van Tassel, DeHaan, and Cox. Missing domesticated plant forms: can artificial selection fill the gap? Evolutionary Applications 3: 434 - 452). Major ongoing research programs at The Land Institute are aimed at domesticating perennial grains and legumes for use in a perennial polyculture that mimics the natural landscape. This topic is of great interest to our lab, where for many years we have been studying evolution of perennial crops under domestication, geographic patterns of genetic variation in perennial crop wild relatives, and the genomic basis of adaptation in long-lived plant species. Consequently, we were thrilled when Wes accepted our offer to visit St. Louis, and had a great time during his visit. For an additional post detailing Wes' visit please check out Jennifer Fleischmann's post on the EarthDance web site.
Last week I visited the Millennium Seed Bank, part of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens located at Wakehurst Place in Ardingly, West Sussex, about one hour south of central London by train. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to collect and preserve seed from all of over the world, with a special focus on at-risk species and those most useful for the future. I was particularly interested in their program "Adapting Agriculture for Climate Change" which focuses on collecting and preserving seed from globally important crops and their wild relatives. Many thanks to Ruth Eastwood and Colin Khoury for sharing information via email and phone about this incredible facility. I am especially grateful to Danielle Haddad for taking the time to show me around the Seed Bank. Danielle provided an extremely informative and delightful tour of the Millennium Seed Bank. I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed the tour.
The Millennium Seed Bank has developed detailed protocols for the collection of seed from wild populations. It includes facilities for the receipt, drying, processing, and testing of seeds via x-ray. Once seeds have reached the appropriate humidity level, they are placed into small glass jars, which are then placed in larger glass jars, and those are stored in huge walk-in freezers. Metadata describing the locality of origin, date of collection, taxonomic identity, and other criticial information are associated with each sample and stored in the database. In addition, the Millennium Seed Bank has greenhouses for growing seeds and testing viability. At the time of my visit, it was estimated that the Millennium Seed Bank houses nearly 2 billion seeds representing about 15% of the known plant species on the planet. Wow!
Last week we ventured to the University of Missouri Southwest Agricultural Experiment Station in Mount Vernon, MO to sample leaves for various analyses including leaf morphology, ion concentration, transcriptomics, and physiology. We had a great team of people from the Danforth Plant Science Center, Missouri State University, Saint Louis University Department of Biology and Center for Sustainability, the University of Missouri Grape and Wine Institute. It was a hot day but we had a wonderful and productive trip.
Recently we were introduced to Chaumette Vineyard and its owner Hank Johnson. Chaumette is a beautiful vineyard located near Saint Genevieve, Missouri, about an hour and a half south of St. Louis. The vineyard consists of several hybrid grapes including Chambourcin, Chardonel, Norton, Traminette, and Vignoles, among others. Interestingly, two of the species we are studying now, Vitis riparia and V. rupestris, were used in the generation of some of these varietals, including Chardonel and Traminette. Hank gave us a great tour of Chaumette, where we had a chance to visit the vineyards, greenhouses, surrounding forests (replete with native Vitis), the lab and wine-making facility. It was a wonderful day at a really breathtaking place. We are grateful to Hank for his enthusiastic interest in science and support of grapevine biology, and for hosting us for this fun and educational visit.
Chrissy McAllister presented her dissertation "Origin, evolution, and ecology of cytotype diversity in big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)" to a near standing-room only crowd at SLU yesterday. The audience included SLU faculty and graduate students, a large contingent from Chrissy's home institution of Principia College, and family and friends. Chrissy's committee voted to pass both the oral presentation and written document with distinction. Chrissy is the first PhD student to graduate from the Miller Lab - congratulations, Chrissy! Chrissy will return to her post as Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Principia College, and will take on some additional duties there as the new Unit Head of Science.
Less than one year ago we planted an experimental vineyard in the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden. There are two native North American grapevines in our small vineyard, the riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) and the rock grape (V. rupestris). Will the flowers of these species open at the same time? What will pollinate the grapevines in this urban location? In addition, we spotted the first phylloxera gall on a V. rupestris this year. If you have a chance, be sure to swing by the vineyard on your next trip to the garden! This project was supported by the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability and MBG.
This week I traveled to Columbia, MO to give a talk in the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri. My hosts arranged a full day of meetings with a range of plant scientists studying everything from developmental genetics to root physiology to plant viruses. I learned a ton and had a wonderful time talking science. Special thanks to the Pires/Conant labs, and the Schultz/Appel lab for letting me crash your lab meetings. Opportunities like this really help to build research ties among institutions in Missouri - what a great day!
Miller Lab members