Fascination of Plants Day
2017

How do plants adjust to their environment?
Join us for an experiment!

Plants face many changes in their environment: the sunlight is suddenly blocked by clouds, temperature goes up or down, it starts to rain.... Humans can open an umbrella, put on sunglasses, or heat their houses. Animals can move to look for shelter. However, most plants have their roots in the ground and cannot walk away.
Some plants are specialized to grow and survive in the desert, or in a tropical forest. But all plants have tricks to adjust themselves to some changes in their environment. For example, if it gets colder, they can make an anti-freeze in their cells. If they sense that there are many plants around them, they make longer stems to avoid being overshadowed.
Why do we find cacti in hot and dry deserts and water plants in ponds? The reason for that can be found in their genetic information (DNA). Over a long period of time cacti have evolved their DNA such that they now have special proteins (enzymes) that can withstand heat and designed unique ways to conserve water. There are genetic differences between cacti and water plants, but also between different sorts of cacti. Even plants of the same cactus can have small differences in their DNA. As a result of these differences, some plants may be able to adjust better to their environment than the others. If scientists can understand the 'tricks' different plants use to cope with environmental changes, and also the genes responsible for such tricks, they may find ways to select crop plants that better survive a heat or dry period. To this end many scientists study genes in a wide variety of plants, and how active these genes are in different environments. By the way, the genetic information of the plants will also determine how easily or poorly they can adapt to global change!

Questions

A

How different or similar do plants with the same DNA look like when they are grown in different places of the world?

B

Can we say which of these plant is from which place or environment based on a picture?

C

How different or similar do plants look like when they are grown at the same place of the world, but inside a building and outside?
We use a plant called "thale cress". Its official name is Arabidopsis thaliana. You see pictures of thale cress on this website. Thale cress is a little weed that grows in various places on earth. It is grown by many plant scientists these days to do experiments because it flowers very quickly and we know all its genes and DNA. There are many different "genotypes" of thale cress, that is, some parts of DNA are different depending on the places you naturally find these plants. The genotype we use in this experiment has a nickname 'Col-0'.
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Challenges

We have two challenges for you. One is about growing plants at your place and taking pictures of them. The other is about analyzing these pictures. You can try one or both of them!

When you register yourself, we will send you seeds of thale cress by post. All you need to do is to sow the seeds in two pots and place one pot outside (garden, balcony, etc.) and the other pot inside (greenhouse, by the window of your room). It is easy, apart from watering the plants a bit, making a few notes and following the cultivation guidelines you can find here. Then take pictures of both plants and send them to us. All pictures will be placed on this website so that everybody can see how similar or different the plants have become inside and outside around your place and at different places in the world!

We will make an analysis computer program available for you to digitally measure plant leaf area in pictures. Anybody interested in Challenge 2 can download the pictures and other information provided by the participants of Challenge 1 to analyze them and answer the Questions. You may also pose your own questions and answer them by analyzing the pictures. If you write a report based on these results and send us a pdf, it will be placed on this website.

Prizes

There will be prizes awarded to the person (or team) who grew the most 'average' plant inside and the person (or team) who grew the most 'average' plant outside in Challenge 1. Next to that, there will also be a prize for the person (or team) who made the best analysis of Challenge 2.
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Interested to participate?

Please register yourself here so we can send you the seeds.
You can find instruction for how to grow the plants here.

We are allowed to send seeds to all countries of the European Union. Outside the European Union, regulations become complicated. However, if you happen to know a plant researcher in your country who can provide you some seed of Arabidopsis thaliana Col-0, we would be very happy if you participate, as it makes the coverage across the world much better! - Why is it not easy to send seed across the world? The reason is that plants may become a nuisance to other plants and animals. For this reason it is good that when you grow the plants, you throw them away in a waste container at the end of the experiment.