Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A Treasure Of Green Moss: Modern Computers To Uncover Secrets Of Duke’s Ancient Mosses

Date:
February 25, 2005
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
It’s ironic. The 230,000 specimens of bryophytes -- mosses and their cousins-- in the Duke Herbarium’s massive collection may have evolved some 500 million years ago. But not until 21st-century computer technology will some of their secrets be revealed.

Jonathan Shaw with Duke's collection of North Carolina mosses.
Credit: Photo : Jim Wallace

It’s ironic. The 230,000 specimens of bryophytes -- mosses and their cousins-- in the Duke Herbarium’s massive collection may have evolved some 500 million years ago. But not until 21st-century computer technology will some of their secrets be revealed.

Related Articles


Until now, access to the rich trove of specimens has been limited because they have been catalogued only in paper records. However, a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will enable a team of technicians to scan images of the specimens and code data on them into an online database available around the world.

Duke students can access the database for evolutionary and biological studies in their coursework, and faculty can use the database to find specimens for their research. It’s a rich scientific trove, says biologist Jonathan Shaw, curator of bryophytes.

Our bryophyte and lichen collections are two of the most important and largest in the country," he said. "The bryophytes are probably one of the largest three university-based collections of bryophytes. We have, of course, the best collection of North Carolina mosses in the world, and North Carolina moss diversity is extremely high. A significant percentage of all the species that are present in North America are present in the southeastern United States.

"We also have several hundred ‘type’ specimens, which are those on which new species are based. These are critically important, because they define a species, which really cannot be done from written descriptions or photos," he said.

Modest-looking little plants that nestle in the moist soils of swamps or mountain hollows, mosses fascinate biologists both because of their evolution and their biology, said Shaw.

For one thing, North Carolina is a sort of "Lost World" of plants -- where plants from regions much farther north or south have somehow survived for millennia.

"Here in North Carolina, we have species that are reaching their northern limit from the tropics," he said. "And we have boreal species from the far north that reach their southern limit in the mountains of North Carolina." Shaw recalls that this strange juxtaposition can yield surprises.

"About eight years ago, I was collecting bryophytes in some of the very rich gorges of the Appalachians in southwestern North Carolina. I was just making general collections, and I picked up one moss that didn’t look like any great shakes. But it turned out that it was the first population of this moss found in North America. And the next closest locality for this species was in Guatemala."

Besides giving scientists more ready access to the collection, computerization will also enable Duke bryologists to identify "hot spots" of moss diversity that should be conserved, as well are "dark spots" of regions that are undercollected.

"The mosses are a really biologically important group of plants because they’re very primitive land plants," said Shaw. "So, studies of mosses can help us understand the origins of biodiversity. They’re also starting to become more and more important model organisms for the study of molecular genetics and genomics."

Shaw explained that mosses are especially amenable to genetic tinkering because their adult form contains only one copy of each gene -- a state called haploidy. By contrast higher organisms, from vascular plants to humans, are "diploid," containing two copies of each gene.

"This haploid property of the moss genome has implications both scientific and practical," said Shaw. "In terms of studying evolutionary processes, there is less hidden genetic variation, because there aren’t two copies of each gene. When a mutation arises in a moss species, it is either going to be selected or not by the environment, unless it’s absolutely neutral. This phenomenon allows us to use mosses to understand evolutionary processes in a way that no other group of organisms allows.

"This haploidy also lets us alter or knock out genes and see their effects right away, because there are not second copies to mask the alteration," he said. Using mosses in such studies, said Shaw, will aid in mapping the location of genes of ecological or developmental importance to plants, as well as exploring how multiple genes interact in influencing plant development.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "A Treasure Of Green Moss: Modern Computers To Uncover Secrets Of Duke’s Ancient Mosses." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223161153.htm>.
Duke University. (2005, February 25). A Treasure Of Green Moss: Modern Computers To Uncover Secrets Of Duke’s Ancient Mosses. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223161153.htm
Duke University. "A Treasure Of Green Moss: Modern Computers To Uncover Secrets Of Duke’s Ancient Mosses." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223161153.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins