why do we want bionet.plants? [was: Re: Reapeting messages]

Richard Winder rwinder at PFC.Forestry.CA
Fri Aug 27 16:35:41 EST 1993

In article <1993Aug25.152514.19436 at gserv1.dl.ac.uk>,
 ajt at uk.ac.sari.rri (Tony Travis) writes:
>Martin Hughes (Biochem) (mjgh at uk.ac.cam.bio.mbfs) wrote:
>: [ajt: encouragement for readers to become posters... etc.]
>: I think there is a problem here in what Tony wants to see happening.
>Maybe ...

No problem.

In my experience, all that is really necessary to stake out your turf
is an abstract or a patent.  Funding authorities seem to have little
patience with duplication of effort these days.  It *is* prudent to protect
yourself on big-ticket research, and abuses do occur in the system.  But 
by-and-large, I believe that fears of being scooped are amounting to
paranoia that is unecessarily impeding the interaction we need in science.
We all talk about protecting our ideas, but seem to fade on the subject
of weeding out those who are advancing the cutting edge of dubious ethics.

If you get an idea you want to try after reading about someone's research
on the net, you have to realize that a global audience has seen it, and
that interested parties have the relevant info. squirreled away somewhere.
You are not likely to publish sans acknowledgement without raising a furor.

>: Essentially, we are all working on our own projects, which either
>: (a) we imagine no-one else is interested in,
>The important word here is _imagine_ ;-)

Apathy, real or imagined, is not an excuse to fail to communicate the truth.
If you imagine that your audience is apathetic, it will be.  Count on it.

>: (b) are in a competative
>: field, and so there is a reluctance to talk about our results, and/
>Ok, but what is the difference between talking here and, say, at a
>: or (c) are too "shy" to post.
>I accept this, but as a group we can do something about it and create
>an environment that encourages people to use news/email to communicate.

I showed a wildlife scientist/businessman some plans I had to start a 
business.  He remarked "Wow- you rarely see that".  I said "What?"  He 
said "A botanist with an actual market survey.  They're usually much 
too high-inertia to get going on anything like this."

We all live with our choices.  I just happened to want to dissect things
that didn't want to try and jerk away from the scalpel...  Whatever
the generic botanist (straw botanist?) is like, one should remember that,
these days, publication is almost an anticlimax, and will not guarantee
that you are not in a vacuum.

[Text deleted]

>Quality, not quantity on bionet.plants :-)


>: So, whilst I agree that what Tony proposes would be nice, I cannot
>: really see any such thing happening UNLESS we sort of reformed
>: the group as a sort of Global Journal Club (since I believe that
>: not too many people are really going to be too willing to discuss
>: the ins and outs of their own work on a global network).
>: Any other thoughts?

I think reform is pretty unecessary.  When the hot topics come up, so
will the volume.  When not, someone will eventually notice and stir the

>Yes, it would be nice but no-one is going to discuss the real ins and
>outs of their work in a public forum in case they expose their own
>weaknesses and insecurity to competitors.

You overrate me... :-)

My research deals with the development of endemic fungal biocontrol agents
for control of weeds (specifically Calamagrostis canadensis, or Canada reed-
grass) in reforestation areas in the boreal forest of Northern B.C., Yukon, 
and the N.W. Territories.  To date, I have discovered two snow-loving fungi
that could have the potential to suppress the weed without the use of 
chemicals, freeing conifer seedlings from competition and smothering.

There is a hitch.  To date, most of the endemic agents developed have spotty
performance in the field.  Most researchers concentrate on temperature,
dew period, and other environmental or genetic factors as necessary 
components of predispostion.  But I have seen such endemic pathogens fail
often enough to suspect deeper reasons for spotty performance.  Results seem
to indicate that auto-allelopathic suppression from straw accumulation is
what triggers pathogenesis in this system.  In this scenario, numerous
fungi actually stimulate the growth of the grass in the pioneer phase of
succession, and then suppress growth of the grass in the later stages of
succession.  These same fungi break down the allelpathic chemical, by which
time the next seral stage (poplar/willows) is in place.  The ecological role
of facultative pathogens becomes one of `successional accelerant'.  There 
seems to be no difference between what we would call  endophytes and 
facultative pathogens- indicating that we may have been sold a bill of goods
by researchers who claim that bioherbicides will be in balance with nature
yet "act just like chemicals".  We have essentially been developing 
bioherbicides (an oxymoron) with conventional phytopathological thinking based
on crop systems (where many underlying pathologies come into play, including
the effects of breeding, monocultures, vectors, etc.).  In weeds, we may have
to work harder to stimulate some underlying pathological stress before 
biocontrol with endemic pathogens is successful.  To further complicate 
matters, various endophytes in this grass can effectively immunize the grass
against other fungi (which shouldn't be too surprizing to those who develop
biocontrol agents for pathogens).  When you throw in the allelopathic
element with these combinations, all kinds of wierd things happen, which I am
still looking at.  I'd appreciate hearing from others who may have light to 
shed on this subject...

To stir the coals more:

Did anyone read Nature (12 August 1993) 364:616-617? (Diaz et al., Evidence 
of a feedback mechanism limiting plant response to elevated carbon dioxide.)

They show that nutrient limitations to CO2-induced productivity occur even in
good soils, due to blooming microflora which uptake substrates from
non-mycorrhizal plants.  They do not speculate, so I'll ask- How will this 
impact global warming models?   -RSW

  RICHARD WINDER                    Title: Visiting Fellow
  Forestry Canada                   Phone: (604) 363-0600
  Victoria, B.C.                    Internet: RWINDER at A1.PFC.Forestry.CA

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