When glaciers advanced over much of the Earth’s surface during the last ice age, what kept the planet from freezing over entirely? This has been a puzzle to climate scientists because leading models have indicated that over the past 24 million years geological conditions should have caused carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to plummet, possibly leading to runaway “icehouse” conditions.  Now researchers writing in the July 2, 2009, Nature report on the missing piece of the puzzle – plants.

A tiny plant with a long name (Arabidopsis thaliana) helps researchers design new crops to help meet increasing demands for food, biofuels, industrial materials, and new medicines. The genes, proteins, and other traits of this plant reside in the Arabidopsis Information Resource (TAIR) database. TAIR just released a new version of the genome sequence, which includes an array of improvements and novel features that promise to accelerate this critical research.

Cellulose makes up plant cell walls, gives plants shape and form and is a target of renewable, plant-based biofuels research. But how it forms, and thus how it can be modified to design energy-rich crops, is not well understood. Now a study led by researchers at Plant Biology has discovered that the underlying protein network that provides the scaffolding for cell-wall structure is also the traffic cop for delivering critical growth-promoting molecules where needed.

The Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology is a major participant in a newly-funded Department of Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) at Stanford University. The new EFRC, called the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion, will conduct basic research on developing new materials and technologies for meeting energy needs while reducing emission of greenhouse gases.

The National Academy of Sciences has awarded Arthur Grossman, of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology, the 2009 Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal “in recognition of excellence in published research on marine or freshwater algae.” The award was established through the Helen P. Smith Fund.

Michelle Davison, a 3rd year graduate student in the Bhaya/Grossman lab has received a SCORE grant from the Biology Department to support her dissertation research. The title of her grant is "A 'Heated' Arms Race: Analysis of Viral Warfare in a Hot Spring Microbial Mat Community". The purpose of these grants is to "allow students flexibility in exploring and developing innovative research projects, particularly in their first three years at Stanford". All SCORE recipients will participate in a symposium held by the Department in Fall 2009.

Like most sciences, biology is inundated with data. However, researchers, including Sue Rhee at Plant Biology, warn in a Nature feature that the avalanche of biological information is at the point where the discipline may be unable to reach its full potential without improvements for curating data into on-line databases. The piece outlines specific remedies to harness the information overload.

Former Plant Biology director, Chris Somerville, delivers keynote lecture on Developing Cellulosic Biofuels at the 19th International Conference on Arabidopsis Research. 

Steroids bulk up plants just as they do human athletes, but the playbook of molecular signals that tell the genes to boost growth and development in plant cells is far more complicated than in human and animal cells. A new study by plant biologists at the Carnegie Institution used an emerging molecular approach called proteomics to identify key links in the steroid signaling chain.