James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

December 31, 2009

Year End Wrap Up

Filed under: Site Business — Tags: — James @ 3:46 pm

Happy New Year’s Eve! (or New Year’s Day, I know I have at least a few readers in the eastern hemisphere)

I figured the last day of the year would be a fun time to look back as some of the posts from earlier in the year. I was originally going to do a top five most popular entries of the year but first of all, the list is dominated by my coverage of the maize genome and even if I condense that inside a single item, the list would still be dominated by recent entries (the result of a take off in readership over the past six months, thank you guys!) so instead I picked some entries I particularly enjoyed writing.


The acronym stands for Twice as Much Biomass is Twice as Much, and what it means is that the technology that’s used to turn biomass into energy (ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, butanol, plain old burning to generate electricity, etc) isn’t set. Any research effort spent optimizing crops for the system that’s popular this week risks being obsolete next week if someone thinks up a new more efficient way to turn plants into energy. But whatever technology ends up being used (and I do think some plant based energy source will be part of the energy solution we eventually adopt), it is certain that being able to grow more/bigger plants on the same land, with the same or fewer inputs will still be important. TAMBI-TAM

Could we feed ourselves with Tomatoes?

It’s always fun to take a trend and extrapolate it absurdly far out. In this case, carbohydrates, in the form of grains and potatoes are often vilified as empty calories, while vegetables like the tomato are used as examples of the food we SHOULD be eating. No one is advocating abandoning grains entirely for vegetables like the tomato (at least I hope no one is!), but it’s still fun to do some back of the envelope calculations on what that extreme scenario would look like.

Phylogeny of the Pineapple, a further explanation of awesomeness:

The follow up to Why Pineapples are Awesome, this post is basically just an brief intro to the relationships between different groups of flowering plants. I’ve since learned that the placement of the magnoliids (represented by avocado) is a matter of debate, but I still really like this post, both for the title, and because I later turned it into a half hour presentation for my teaching class where I went head to head against an ecology major and gave the more interesting presentation (or so I was told by several mic). This is quite a rare thing when plant biologists go up against ecologists as most people find stories about whole ecosystems more intriguing than stories about plants alone.

Why Wheat Is Losing Out in the Era of Modern Crop Breeding:

Speculating about some of the cultural and biological reasons wheat yields haven’t increased as fast as those of other crops. I didn’t think this was a particularly insightful piece, but it was one of the first I wrote that kept getting views for more than a week, and helped build my confidence right around the time I was starting to consider the idea of writing daily updates instead of a couple a month.

Finally the pedestrianly titled: Figure from my Research Proposal

A demonstration of how I could use the GeVo browser in CoGe to look at how the promoters of genes duplicated in the maize tetraploidy each changed by comparing those genes to orthologs in sorghum and rice. Working with CoGe every day at work it’s easy to forget it’s not a tool most people are familiar with, so it was really cool to see my figure inspire a write up (and video walk through) of GeVo by Trey over at OpenHelix. The end result was a big enough increase in traffic that Eric (the mind behind CoGe) noticed an uptick in traffic to our site.

So thank you all, the people who comment, the people who’ve linked here, and the people who read. It’s been a great year for me, and I hope for you as well.

I’ll probably be recycling a lot of similar sentiment in a couple of weeks with James and the Giant Corn’s second birthday roles around.

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