Plants Defend Their Territories With Toxic Substances

For the first time a molecular mechanism for the “warfare” among plants has been revealed.

Plants that are in in competition with each other produce chemicals in order to defend themselves and to reach a good position to the sun. An international team of researchers, among them scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for developmental biology in Tübingen, Germany, have now shown that some substances used in the fight against plant competitors specifically target the genetic material of neighbouring plants in order to stop their growth.

Limited resources dictate the plant’s daily struggle for light, water and nutrients. It is not enough to just gain those, the plant also has to defend its territory against others. This is done with the help of allelochemicals. The process where plants inhibit growth and development of rivals is called allelopathy and has been known for a while.

These substances are discharged through liquids in the roots into the soil, where they are being decomposed by microbes. Neighbouring plants take up the metabolic products and are thus being hindered in growth. A number of these allelochemicals have already been identified. The new research however, shows exactly how they work in the cells of the targeted plant. The work of Sascha Venturelli, Claude Becker and their colleagues shows for the first time a molecular mechanism for this chemical territorial behavior of plants.

The study deals with a specific class of allelochemicals, the cyclic hydroxamic acids DIBOA and DIMBOA, emitted for example by certain grasses via the roots. Their metabolites are known for being very toxic for neighbouring plants. The research team showed with biochemical and structural analyses and physiological experiments that these substances work within the cells by changing the activity of targeted genes. The toxins inhibit the activity of so called histone deacetylases. These enzymes bind to histones, a group of proteins that form the genetic material together with DNA. Acetyl side chains are then being removed, which leads to a compaction of the DNA and reduced genetic activity.

The examined allelochemicals are not only a key factor when it comes to colonisations through invasive plants, they also promise help with human illnesses. They have been shown to be effective against cancer. Histone deacetylases are already being used in some cancer medications and this class of active ingredients is further being researched with clinical trials. This is a great example for the advantages of plant research for medical progress.

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The Green Wheel Rotary Garden

Designed after a development by NASA to enable astronauts to grow plants in zero gravity, this project may find its way into earthbound households.

Reminiscent of something out of Kubrick’s 2001, the Green Wheel is a rotary hydroponic system concept by DesignLibero. Originally planned to be used in space, this design has been fitted towards everyday use at home. It allows people to grow a variety of different herbs and vegetables without leaving home, therefore reducing transportation and plastic packaging consumption.

With its 360 degree planting surface there is increased space for cultivating plants, compared to other hydroponic systems. Another advantage is the maximized illumination. The light source is in the middle of the wheel, radiating in all directions, close to the plants. The outer solid surface hides an engine which rotates the plants, a water reservoir and an automatic irrigation pump. The hydroponic system uses coco fiber to provide support for the plants and their roots. The controls can be managed with a smartphone or tablet.

DesignLibero is expecting to find a manufacturer for the Green Wheel soon.

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TreeYoga: Getting to New Heights

TreeYoga is the combination of yoga practice with the love for trees into a challenging and joyful outdoor experience.

Developed from thousand year old hinduistic traditions, yoga is one of the best ways to bring body and mind into harmony. The performance of the yogic postures, or asanas, is helping people all over the world to reduce stress, calm down, and train their flexibility. The benefits of yoga have been proven again and again in scientific studies and are by no means restricted to people with an esoteric belief system.

TreeYoga takes the yogic postures from the mat into the trees. With the help of special slings, it is possible to stretch and open the body in ways, that would otherwise not be possible. The hips are strengthened, as is the upper body and the back. The practice itself is less formal then normal yoga exercises, it is more about enjoying nature. Because of the unusual postures there is also a lot of laughing involved, which brings a positive vibe to the sport.

The TreeYoga creators Hal Pruessner and Helen Stutchbury have patented the TreeYoga Multi-Sling Kit which is necessary for a safe practice in the trees. It is a set of two red padded body slings and one or more blue unpadded tree slings constructed of industrial strength sling material and heavy duty thread into interlocked loops. The red slings are padded with a thick, comfortable neoprene insert for maximum comfort, and together the kit weighs about 2 pounds, but can carry up to 7500 pounds of pressure.

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3 Questions to: Sonja Dümmen (Dümmen GmbH)

The Rheinberg-based company Dümmen Group is consistently expanding its sustainability strategy. In future they will supply fair trade poinsettias under the Red Fox brand to their international pot plant producers. Thus Dümmen will answer the widely shared desire for an ethical, transparent production chain. Sonja Dümmen is Head of Marketing at Dümmen GmbH and is managing the Fairtrade project.

Mrs. Dümmen, what are the reasons why the Dümmen Group will soon be selling poinsettias from your farm Red Fox Ethiopia as a Fairtrade product?
Dümmen: The Fairtrade Mark renders visible our way of working and what we represent. It records monitored working conditions and a responsible approach to plant protection and the environment. What is most important, however, is that it provides support for the people locally in Ethiopia. With Fairtrade we have the opportunity to invest 10% of the turnover directly on the ground for the benefit of the people there. The consumers who make a conscious decision to buy here support this initiative by purchasing Fairtrade products.

How can we visualise the certification process? What are the challenges?
Dümmen: All partners in the chain have to be certified, starting with the parent plant production site in Ethiopia, which is inspected by an independent certification organisation. Other links in the chain also have to be certified, however, such as the production plant in Rheinberg and the producers in Europe that raise the poinsettia cuttings. Since we run the production chain centrally, from cultivation to the finished young plant, this is entirely feasible. We only have to create transparency for third parties, which naturally always entails administrative work.

What specific advantages do you see for retailers, nurseries and last but not least for customers?
Dümmen: The advantages for the retail trade are quite clear and are to be found in the transparency of the supply chain. It can always trace Fairtrade products back to their origin and rely on the fact that reliable, inspected suppliers are behind the product. The consumer can buy responsibly and help people in Africa by buying Fairtrade. Transparency is important here too. The customer sees where the cutting comes from, but also who has raised the product to its finished state in Germany or Europe. The customer is also informed about the advantages for our partner businesses: ten percent of the revenue from the cut-tings is for the workers locally in the country of origin to use as they see fit for social purposes. The monitored production conditions create transparency and guarantee a fair process.

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Miniature Greenhouses by Jiffy: Diverse and Flexible Growing

Jiffy is the inventor of the Jiffypot, a planting pot made from compressed peat, which integrates with the plant’s root system and is transplanted with the plant.

Among a range of different greenhouses, Jiffy is now also offering miniature greenhouses for window sills, balconies and terraces. They are made from high-grade and robust synthetics and come in several strong colours. Equipped with ventilation flaps and a transparent case they offer a good environment for successful and stable plant growth. Jiffy Plant Pots and Tabs are available as refill packs, for example the Jiffy-7-Pellets. The largest model, MultiGrow, is equipped with a drainage, which helps draining superfluous water.

Hot and Spicy – The Chili Greeenhouse

Another new development by Jiffy for the DIY-crowd is the Hot Chili Hobby Set in flaming red. This greenhouse comes together with three different kinds of chilli seeds in original Jiffy Pots that grow into spicy chilli peppers.

Who is Jiffy?

Jiffy is a leading developer and vendor of growing products and substrates. They produce and export worldwide. The company has over 60 years of experience and is the inventor of the Jiffypot, a plant pot made from pressed peat or coco. Jiffy is offering its growing solutions to hobby gardeners as well as professionals. Their product range includes special substrates, growing pots, compressed pellets and greenhouses. Every day, more than 10 million plants are being grown in Jiffy products worldwide – thats over 3.5 billion per year!

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