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March/April 2002

Compiled and edited by Gary Kuleck, Biology Department, Loyola Marymount University, 7900 Loyola Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045.

Science Urges Readers to See "Plants in Motion" at Hangarter's Web Site

ASPB member Roger Hangarter of Indiana University, Bloomington, was featured in the January 18, 2002, issue of Science, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Watch the Grass Grow," in the NETWATCH section of the magazine, describes Hangarter's "Plants-in-Motion" and other images found at or through "The Hangarter Lab" web site.

Roger says, "I was pleased that Science mentioned the Plants-in-Motion web site. Being mentioned in Science is a great way for the site to get exposure. Hopefully more teachers will find the site as a result of the Science article. Since one of my objectives in creating the site and the time-lapse movies it contains is to provide a resource that will help educate others about the dynamic nature of plants, the recognition in Science can only help."

The Plants-in-Motion page aptly describes itself as "Your online source of time-lapse plant movies." Using QuickTime format, the viewer may select from 21 movies, ranging from Arabidopsis germination to the "sleep" movement of leaves.

This site offers students and others the opportunity to see the rare movements of roots, leaves, and stems. Difficult concepts are clearly depicted by this movie approach. For example, nutation is explained by a presentation with the fanciful title "Dancing Fools." It includes a short explanation: "As plants elongate and grow they exhibit a bending and twisting motion called nutation. This movement is generally not perceptible under normal viewing conditions, but in time-lapse movies nutation is easily observed. The function of nutation movement is not well understood, but it is thought that nutation provides a mechanism by which plants can explore and sense their environment, like a vine looking for a support to climb on."

This explanation, along with the visual sight of a slender plant doing a pretty decent "funky chicken," will indeed cement the concept more firmly in the mind of the student. The article in Science has certainly elicited a response. Roger says, "I have had several e-mail contacts since the article appeared, some asking for permission to link the site on their pages. And the photo editor of a scientific magazine-Muy Interesante-in Spain contacted me about doing a story on the site and using some of my pictures, so the mention in Science has already led to some international interest."

The popularity of the site and the attention it has drawn should encourage all of our members who have contemplated using the web to disseminate their efforts in the laboratory to a larger audience. If you have or know of interesting sites, please submit them and we will gladly publish them at the ASPB web site (http:// www.aspb.org/education/).

The Hangarter Lab can be found at http://sunflower.bio.indiana.edu/~rhangart/ and through a link from the ASPB web site: http://www.aspb.org/education/ (click on "Plants-in-Motion").

West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference

The 27th annual WCBSUR Conference will be held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 27. This conference provides a forum for undergraduate students to present the results of their original research in the biological sciences to like-minded peers and faculty. Please consider hosting a student and becoming one of the many attendees who take part in this celebration of undergraduate research. For more information, visit the conference web site at http://cse.eng.lmu.edu/7Ebio_web/wcbsurc/first_page.htm

Second Announcement! 3rd Annual ASPB Education Booth Exhibitor Competition

Grants Available to ASPB Members in Education Exhibit Competition Have you developed new ways of carrying out hands-on science in your teaching laboratory or classroom? The Education Committee cordially invites you to share your activity with the ASPB membership by hosting an interactive exhibit/demonstration at the Education Booth at the annual ASPB meeting this summer in Denver, August 3-7. We are looking for new ideas and technology that is being used in the classroom, and, as an incentive, we are offering a cash grant of $500 and registration costs for up to three presenters. Your proposal should be no longer than four double-spaced pages. It should include a title and the address and contact information of the presenter. Please address the following questions in your proposal:

  1. State clearly the rationale behind the exhibit. Highlight the use of new techniques or technology. How is this presentation exciting and new?
  2. Provide a clear, detailed summary of how the exhibit will function. (A diagram would be helpful.) In particular, it will be important to illustrate how the visitors can interact with the exhibit.
  3. Indicate the equipment that will be required for the exhibit. Please indicate whether a computer, Internet connection, or VCR and monitor will be needed. We will make every effort to meet your needs.

Note that awardees are expected to spend some time hosting their exhibit and interacting with members at the booth each day. You're welcome to choose the times most convenient for you.

We can't think of a better opportunity to showcase your new approaches or new technology for the plant biology classroom. We hope that you will consider submitting a proposal and will join us at the booth for these exciting exhibits!

Your proposal should be addressed to gkuleck@lmu.edu and submitted as an e-mail attachment (Microsoft Word) by no later than April 30, 2002. Winners will be notified by May 10, 2002.

Outreach to Elementary School Education in Plant Science

ASPB member Jane Shen-Miller, of UCLA, has discovered how to reach students at the earliest stages of scientific inquiry. Her scientific work concerning germinating lotus seeds has been chosen for inclusion in a third-grade reading book called On Your Mark, published by Harcourt School Publishers as part of its "Trophies" reading program. Adorned with colorful illustrations and simple text, the two-page article by Mary Brown, "Seeds Can Sleep," is paired with a fictional story about a man who tends a desert garden and is part of a larger thematic unit called "Celebrate the World."

Dr. Shen-Miller's success with the 1,300- year-old lotus seed was widely covered in the media, after Shen-Miller reported her research in the American Journal of Botany (November 1995). The student text describes how she was given the seeds in 1984 as a gift and then tested the seeds to see whether they would sprout.

"We were very excited about Dr. Shen-Miller's work with the lotus seed," replied the publisher, "and thought it would be of great interest to third-grade students, who are learning about seeds and plant growth in their science curriculum. As we could not find anything written at an elementary level about this project, we had this article written for us based on the information Dr. Shen-Miller so kindly provided."

As evidenced throughout the country, interest in plant science continues to reach the beginning levels of inquiry and understanding. For example, in the Washington, DC, area, the curriculum of both the Fairfax and Montgomery counties school districts include the use of Wisconsin Fast Plants, a program that ASPB member Paul Williams developed.

In a written reply for this article. Dr. Shen- Miller responded: "In 1995, when I first published about the germination and directly dated oldest seed on record, a ~1,300-year-old lotus, I was deluged for four months with TV and newspaper reporters and radio interviewers. (The photo of the 1,300-year-old seed enjoyed a '15-second fame' as it appeared with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News the same evening of the news release by UCLA.) My lotus plant and I appeared in newspapers all over the world. The public was thrilled with the discovery of a fountain of youth, but our interest is in the cellular repair that occurs during germination and aging.

"Phone messages, e-mails, and letters poured in. Several third-grade teachers and many third-grade students (from Vermont to California) sent inquiries. I guided one class on the germination and cultivation of lotus seeds through daily e-mail and letters. The third graders were enthusiastic and asked many questions. We established good rapport on science and non-science. And recently, a handicapped high school student e-mailed me from Michigan for lotus information after she had read my paper. Her term paper won high marks and was selected by her teacher for exhibition (the student's mom initially had communicated with me, but I asked for direct contact with the student). The third-grade Harcourt piece came from a recent (2000) email interview, plus my reprint. I had no clue about the detailed purpose of the interview (as lotus interviews had become commonplace), but was glad to communicate with a person who had interest in lotus.

Dr. Shen-Miller was delighted that her work could captivate such a young audience and that the impact on the public was so pronounced. Creating excitement about science at such an early stage bodes well for the creation of the next generation of scientists and also the promotion of science literacy. Dr. Shen-Miller adds, "Scientists should write papers suitable for scientists, non-specialist scientists, and educated laymen. Or, our lone science will be kept only in a little circle of specialists. That would be a shame."

"Link Rot" and the World Wide Web's Usefulness in Education

ASPB member John Markwell and colleague David Brook at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have been tracking a phenomenon since November 2000 known to all educators who use the Internet regularly. "Link rot," the decay of World Wide Web links as the sites they connect to change or disappear, is a growing phenomenon be- cause of the flexible and fickle nature of material on the web. What is surprising, according to Dr. Markwell, is that the loss of information occurs at a steady progressive rate, with the hyperlinks in their survey having an apparent "half-life" of 55 months. There is, of course, great variability in site survival time, with institutional and government sites showing the greatest stability.

To promote the utility of these sites for education, the two scholars recommend that professional academic societies act as hosts for the best Internet resources. These societies would play a valuable role by actively reviewing and archiving (mirroring) the best and most relevant educational materials developed by their members. It is also noted that peer-reviewed hosting will provide documentation of scholarship in science education.

For more information on this issue, visit http://www.class.unl.edu/biochem/url/broken_links.html. Information from this article is taken from a more extensive press release that can be found at http://www.ascribe-news.com. A short article also appeared in the March 8 edition of Science.

Op-Ed on GM Foods Results in Wide Audience

ASPB member David Dennis is reaching students with his views on genetically modified (GM) foods through an unexpected source: Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, a college-level text to be published this year by Prentice Hall. An emeritus professor of Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Dr. Dennis wrote a letter to the editor of the Financial Post (now National Post) in 1999 titled "Why GM Foods Aren't So Scary" that brought his views to the attention of Prentice Hall. Dr. Dennis is president and CEO of his own company. Performance Plants, Inc.

The article sets its tone early as it begins, "Some environmentalists want genetically modified foods to be specially labeled and eventually banned. This may sound sensible, but isn't. The plants we see around us evolved at the time of the dinosaurs for their own benefit, not ours, and filled all the planet's ecological niches."

Most foods, including organically grown foods, are the result of intense genetic modification. The tomato started out as a small red berry from South America that was considered toxic and was grown solely as an ornamental. The kiwi fruit was, until recently, a tiny, bitter Chinese gooseberry. The original oil from the rapeseed was an inedible industrial lubricant used in the ships that supplied Europe during WWII. Genetic modification transformed it into a health-friendly cooking oil: canola.

Dr. Dennis addresses the issues of "natural" as opposed to "unnatural" crossbreeding, the public's fear of biotechnology through misunderstanding of that process, and the advantage of creating hardier plants so that pesticides and fertilizer can be reduced or eliminated. He also covers the issue of testing GM plants. He sums up by encouraging the readers to do their own research and supplies web site URLs where readers can find additional information.

His concluding statements express the concerns of other scientists in this area of study: "The majority of researchers in Performance Plants were, until recently, university biologists. We came to this business through a fascination for the science of plants and, more generally, the science of life, and we were a little surprised by the hostility we met when our industry began producing products. We believe that sooner or later the message about the benefits of these technologies will be evident….Greenpeace and related organizations have a role to play in monitoring developments in plant biotechnology, but this role could be enhanced without the rhetoric and antagonism that has characterized the debate so far. Much more could be achieved through an effective dialogue between these organizations and biotechnologists."

Representatives of the publisher described the selection of this article as follows: "The book is sold by our reps to adopters in universities and colleges who teach academic writing across the disciplines, and then distributed through the university bookstores. The reading was selected by our authors be- cause it helps to balance out the chapter on biogenetics, in which there appear some readings that take the view that genetically modified foods are dangerous." The publisher expects this text to be in stock by June 2002.

Prentice Hall adds pedagogical value by appending questions for discussion to the article. For example, they ask students to contrast some of the arguments against GM foods to the arguments in favor as advanced by Dr. Dennis, and they suggest that students critique how Dennis treats opposing or alternative views.

When asked if he had advice for other scientists who want to try their hand at writing to the editor, Dennis replied, "When writing a letter to the editor, it is better to send it to someone you know or at least have spoken to before it is sent. The editor at the National Post I dealt with was Terence Corcoran, and although I do not know him personally, he has himself written about the misinformation that is published about biotech. I knew, therefore, that he was sympathetic. I talked to him before I started to write the article and knew he would look at it carefully. It was exactly the length he wanted and he did little editing of it. It is very important to keep within the length the paper normally accepts. If you send an article just to 'the editor' it will end up in a heap with a pile of other unsolicited articles and could well be lost, even if it is good."

Dr. Dennis says that he'll be "delighted if college and university students read the article. It was aimed at non-biologists. I have spent my life teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and teaching is something I still enjoy. I have a talk I give to local farmers and other groups. Last fall I gave a talk to the Biochemistry Department at the University of Missouri at Columbia called 'The Good, the Bad, and the Transgenic: Learning to Love GMOs.' I have recently repeated it here. I try to show the difference between good and bad biotech research and the appallingly bad research that is used to attack GMOs. I also criticize journals such as Nature for publishing rubbish [on] monarch [butterflies] and GM pollen."

To read "Why GM Foods Aren't So Scary" in its entirety, visit the Performance Plants web site at http://www.performanceplants.com and click on the "Media Center" icon, then "The Financial Post" icon.

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