An English Adventure Part 4

Measuring stomatal conductance in peanut seedlings as an approximation of water loss after treatment with film antitranspirants. Colored plastic beads are used as a mulch to prevent evaporation from the soil surface.

My last days at Harper Adams University (HAU) are quickly approaching, but our work is not quite done yet! This week I’ve been working on a small side project, testing the use of the film antitranspirants in peanut. Peanut is not usually grown in the U.K.; it’s just not warm enough here to make widespread production of the crop viable. However, my dissertation project at UF is focused on peanut and another student in the UF Agroecology program will be completing a field trial on the use of antitranspirants in peanut this summer in Florida, so we decided to conduct a small preliminary trial in the greenhouse at HAU. In this study, I am measuring plant water use and physiology following treatment with the antitranspirants during early growth.

In my last post, I described using leaf relative water content (RWC) as a measure of plant water status. RWC is only one of many measurements that researchers use to characterize how much water a plant is using. Another way to find out how much water a plant is using and losing during a drought is to measure stomatal conductance using a machine called a porometer.

#scienceselfie hanging out with the peanuts in the greenhouse at HAU.

Stomatas are basically small pores in the leaves of a plant that allow the movement of carbon dioxide into the leaf for use in photosynthesis. But stomata are like a two-way street. When open, they also allow water vapor to move out of the leaf. Most species of plants can open or close their stomata in response to their environment. That is, when water is abundant, plants will open their stomata to maximize rates of photosynthesis, because the water they lose when they do this can easily be replaced. If the plant experiences drought, though, it will close its stomata to prevent water from escaping the leaves. Antitranspirants work by blocking the stomata to help prevent plants from losing too much water vapor too quickly and drying out or wilting. Therefore, measuring the rate of water loss through the stomata is a great way to find out how much water the plant is using and if the antitranspirants affect that process. We have also used this technique in the wheat and oil seed rape, so we can compare our results in peanut to these other crops.

Ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens in York.

To escape the hustle and bustle of greenhouse life, I went on a solo adventure to York, one of England’s historic cities. York is a great place to go exploring; the city is full of secret alleys and passageways, known affectionately as ‘snickets.’ As you meander through the snickets, they seem to transport you back in time through the Victorian era and Viking kingdoms, all the way back to when the Romans ruled Britain. Luckily, the weather was beautiful so I spent a great deal of my weekend outdoors in the Museum Gardens in the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. I also found the time to visit the National Railway Museum, which reminded me of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum back at home in D.C., but full of trains instead of airplanes and spacecrafts. I think my favorite part of my trip to York was wandering atop the city walls, taking in the awesome views of York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe. I’m not much of a history buff, but I was still impressed by this city that has been standing since 71 AD. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting and seeing for yourself why everyone, including the Roman Emperor Constantine, loves York.

York Minster towering over the city of York, as seen from atop the old city walls.