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Evaluation of microscopy techniques may help scientists to better understand ancient plants
Date:6/12/2012

In a paper published in PLoS ONE, scientists at the University of Illinois released their findings on what microscopy techniques are needed to identify the shape and texture of pollen grains. Understanding pollen morphology is important to classifying ancient vegetation.

Because pollen morphologies often align quite closely to taxonomic groupings, understanding the appearance of ancient pollen allows scientists to better understand prehistoric flora in the context of modern-day ancestors.

The team's research, led by Surangi Punyasena and Mayandi Sivaguru of the Institute for Genomic Biology, focused on comparing how several reflected and transmitted light microscopy techniques image individual pollen grains. By choosing three pollen samples of diverse grain size and texture, they were better able to understand how each technique functions in different situations.

"The accuracy and consistency of pollen analysis relies on our ability to see as much morphology as possible," explains Punyasena. "Images like those produced by this research are the foundation of my lab's quantitative morphological work - work that we hope will allow us to break through the many taxonomic limitations of pollen identification in the very near future."

"The results of this paper have encouraged us to revisit some longstanding classification problems in vegetation science," says Luke Mander, co-author. "For example, there are around 11,000 species of grass on the planet today, but these species produce pollen that looks extraordinarily similar. This means that it is extremely difficult to use fossil pollen grains to reconstruct the diversification history and evolution of this major plant group. Advances in imaging technology, such as the super-resolution technique used in our paper, allow us to image morphological features less than 200 nanometers in size using light."

"In the future, we hope these morphological features might be
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Contact: Nicholas Vasi
nvasi@illinois.edu
217-333-0873
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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