// Twitter Cards // Prexisting Head The Biologist Is In: December 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Relict Ecosystems

Part of what I like about biology is that it includes topics ranging in scale from the analysis of how a single protein functions all the way to how species and whole ecosystems change over geological time. At every level, there is dramatic complexity to be explored.

As the glaciers from the last Ice Age retreated northwards, a whole landscape of ecosystems followed them. Along the way, isolated fragments of those moving ecosystems were sometimes left behind as a species found a microclimate to their liking. The first such relict ecosystems I learned of are the Lost Pines and Lost Maples areas of central Texas. Each of these locales are known for the large numbers of a type of tree not seen over a wide area around them. More recently I learned about Texas Wild Rice, a tiny relict of the ecosystem that northern Minnesota is now known for.

If these relics persevere long enough, they may rejoin the parental populations when the next ice age happens. The relict populations may then blend back into the larger population, or (if they have fully speciated) they may retain a distinct biological identify. American Sycamore trees and their old-world cousins can hybridize, so it isn't certain the extended time apart would result in speciation.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Science Outreach

Though I haven't been writing much here lately, I have been active with another modern form of science outreach. You can follow my Twitter feed @thebiologistisn for links of interest, observations, and other short-form expressions that don't really fit here on my blog.

The topics covered will be pretty much the same as here. Though you will probably get more of a hint about my political stances, as Twitter's soundbite format is so fitting to politics.

I have connected the blog with my Twitter feed, so new posts here will be automatically linked there. This will make it easy to keep track of when I post. It will also make it easy for you to ask me questions about the topics I discuss, unlike here.

Have a wonderful holidays. I'll be back to [more or less] regular updates before long.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Unstable Genetics

Collecting germplasm is a key step for any plant breeding project. For the amateur plant breeder, this can seem like an arduous task. Fortunately, you can take a quick shortcut by saving seeds from hybrid plants. A hybrid plant will be heterozygous for many alleles, because it was made by crossing two (more or less) unrelated plants. The seeds produced by a hybrid will be segregating out a diverse set of different combinations of the alleles.

Growing these seeds means you may get some plants that are simply worthless, or wonderful in your eyes. Farmers (or others wanting a precise and predictable crop) won't generally accept this uncertainty. (This is probably why there is so much online dismissing the idea of saving seeds from hybrids.) However, if you're ok with each plant being unique and changing from year to year, this may be exactly the sort of thing you're looking for.

Some small plant breeders sell seeds from the unstable early stages of their breeding projects. The good ones will be entirely clear about the unstable nature of the seeds they're selling. The bad ones won't even let you know there is an issue. I have no connection to the breeders I've linked to below, but they seem to be up-front about how their seeds are not a stable end-product of a breeding program. Their seeds should give you plenty of variation to work with.

Seed Sources:

If you know of any other vendors offering similar seeds, please let me know!

More sources added after first posting: