January newsletter - Focus on photosynthesis plus a snow fact special
Welcome to the Science and Plants for Schools January newsletter – and this month we’re focusing on photosynthesis. We've got new and updated practicals, film clips, NASA images and the latest research round-up, all on this key topic. We've also got grants of up to £500 pounds to develop new resources.
Plus a Snow Fact Special covers everything from why carrots could make your ice cream creamier to how the Snow Plant parasitises its host.
Resources - New ‘Algal Balls’ protocols and student worksheets
popular ‘algal balls’ resources are always an interesting and versatile
way to teach photosynthesis and respiration with 14-16 and post-16
We’ve just updated the teachers’ notes and technical guide and included a new set of 5 students’ worksheets. If you’ve not already tried teaching photosynthesis with algal balls, give it a go:
Photosynthesis with algal balls - updated resources
Updated practicals and videos for teaching photosynthesis
balls are just one of the many resources we have on photosynthesis
available from the SAPS website. Take a look at some of our newer and
recently updated resources.
Video clip - Chloroplasts and starch production
Video clip - Light and starch
Video clip - Van Helmont's experiments on plant growth
Video clip - Production of oxygen in plants
Video clip - Leaf structure, stomata and carbon dioxide
Video clip - The work of Calvin and Benson on photosynthesis
Practicals - Oxygen evolution with bubbling pondweed (11-18)
Practicals - Investigating photosynthesis with leaf discs (14-18)
Practicals - Sugar, starch or cellulose? (11-16)
Practicals - What are chloroplasts? (11-16)
Challenge your photosynthesis misconceptions
gathered together some of the most common misconceptions about
photosynthesis in a short multiple choice quiz. Take the quiz and see
how well you do. We’re planning to create new resources to support early
career teachers, and we’ll be using the findings from the quiz in
Take the photosynthesis quiz
Photosynthesis - more than an equation
wonderful animation from NASA represents nearly a decade of data
showing the abundance of photosynthetic life on the land and in the
ocean. By monitoring the colour of reflected light via satellite,
scientists can determine how successfully plant life is growing
photosynthesizing. As the animated world spins the seasons pass, and we
see regions spring into green life over the summer and then fade away.
Nutrients wash from the land into the ocean and the phytoplanktom
Watch the animation
Frontier Photosynthesis and much more – Biology lectures from ASE now available online
scientist Dr Colin Osborne gave a great talk at ASE on the frontiers of
photosynthesis – from how it first evolved to the research pushing it
forward today. In between, he looked again at the nuts and bolts of
photosynthesis, addressing some of the common misconceptions he finds
among post A-level students. Thanks to the Society of Biology and the
BBSRC, the talk is now up online is video form, and well worth watching
for both you and your post-16 students. Tweet Colin your questions at
Watch the Biology lectures online
News – Captured: the moment photosynthesis changed the world
of years ago, a tiny cyanobacterium cracked open a water molecule - and
let loose a poison that wrought death and destruction on an epic scale.
The microbe had just perfected photosynthesis, a process that freed the
oxygen trapped inside water and killed early Earth's anaerobic
Our oxygen-rich world is so familiar to us that we seldom stop to consider life before photosynthesis. But in December, scientists from CalTech in the US presented evidence of the crucial evolutionary stage just before the cyanobacteria split water and mass extinction took place - a photosynthetic organism using manganese as an electron source. Manganese is scarce enough that using it as an electron source in photosynthesis would be unlikely to produce enough oxygen to transform a planet – but when the bacteria incorporated manganese directly into their photosynthetic structures and used the abundant water as the source of electrons, we were on our way to a green world.
Read the full article in the New Scientist online
News - Quantum photosynthesis in extreme environments
team at the University of Cambridge’s Programme for the Physics of
Sustainability say that quantum photosynthesis found in certain
extreme-environment bacteria may offer insights into improving solar
Bacteria surviving over 2000m below the surface of the sea have light-harvesting proteins that appear to use quantum dynamics to convert 100 per cent of the absorbed light into electrical charge. Every photon is converted into energy, crucial for survival in the dark ocean depths.
The researchers argue these extreme light harvesting capabilities can only be attributed to processes of energy transport that fall outside of classical physics – in other words, the bacteria are using quantum coherence to transport energy.
Find out more
SAPS Associates Awards - £500 grants
If you've been inspired by the resources or research in this e-newsletter, why not apply for a SAPS Associates Award?
Over the last year, we've been funding teachers, technicians and lecturers to develop new teaching resources to share with the rest of the SAPS community. If you've got a great teaching resource or an idea you'd like to expand, we can offer grants of up to £500 to help you develop them for our website.
Our grants are also available to fund teachers and technicians who wish to attend conferences, research days and other professional development opportunities related to plant science.
Over the past academic year we've awarded 13 grants and resources on phytoremediation, hydroponics, biophysics of coconuts, STEM careers for post-16 students and extracting plant oils are now live on our site.
To find out more, take a look at the Awards page.
Snow Fact Special
1 How anti-freeze in carrots can make our ice-cream creamier
Many plants contain their own antifreezes - proteins that bind to ice crystals and stop them growing. Large ice crystals damage the cells, so keeping the crystals small seems to allow the plant to continue to function over winter.
Carrots produce theese antifreeze proteins, which could be extracted and added to frozen foods to stop them feeling 'crunchy' when you eat them. Walls Ice Cream has talked to the scientists researching plant antifreeze proteins about this - but adding carrot proteins still won't make ice cream count as one of your five a day.
2 Photosynthesis beneath the snow
Some arctic evergreen plants can keep photosynthesising even under deep levels of snow, including Rhododendrom tomentosum. Enough light filters through the snow to allow them to make use of the carbon dioxide enriched air trapped around them.
3 Plant parasites
The Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), from the west of the US, takes the low effort approach to the problem of photosynthesis in snowy settings. It lacks chlorophyll entirely, and instead parasitises the mycorrhizae beneath the soil. The mycorrhizae exist in a symbiotic relationship with conifer trees, so the Snow Plant is parasitising the conifers at second hand.
4 Rescue mission
If you've been struggling into school through the snow, spare a thought for the team of scientists who set out to rescue an endangered species, spending two days climbing for six hours through snow two feet deep. A Millennium Seed Bank team received news that the rare Snow Protea was flowering high in the South African mountain ranges. They camped, waded and struggled through the snow, finally being rewarded with plants in stunning flower and with viable seeds. Disaster struck as one of the precious seed bags was dropped in the treacherous return journey - but the local Mountain Rescue team spotted it and all arrived safely back at Kew.
5 How pikas make hay while the sun shines
Up on the snowy US mountain peaks pikas (small mammals in the lagomorph family) are digging out their hay stacks from under the snow. Pikas gather plants during the summer and autumn, piling them up into stacks that will last the winter. It's a sophisticated ecology - the pika's winter storehouse is a perfect way for plants to distribute their seeds across the mountain sides. What's more, many of the plants incorporate toxins in their leaves, preventing them from being eaten until they have dried in a pika haystack.
Unfortunately, this plant-animal relationship is threatened by climate change, and both the pikas and their meadows may disappear.