Hot plants and viruses: the story continues

Yesterday, both Joshua and I wrote about grasses that grow in the unusually hot soil at Yellowstone National Park.

Now, I knew that hot springs bacteria can tolerate high temperatures, but I was really surprised to learn that plants could.

It was even more surprising to learn that this amazing ability was conferred on the plants by an infected fungus. I presented the data yesterday. If the fungus wasn't infected, the plants couldn't tolerate high temperatures. And, not only was the fungus-virus combination important for the grass, it had the unusual ability to confer temperature tolerance on other, unrelated plants, like tomatoes.

It's a mystery.

And, I love mysteries.

Last night, I kept thinking: what experiments would I do next if this were my project?

First, I would want to know if there are plant genes that get turned on (or off) when the plants are infected with the fungus-virus combo as opposed to just the fungus. I would look at this by making a differential cDNA library or by scanning ESTs. Or I could use some microarray chips to compare gene expression in the infected and uninfected plants.

At least those are the sorts of experiments that I would do if I had access to a lab and grant money to purchase the equipment and supplies.

But, I do not have a lab. I have a computer.

So, in keeping with the just science spirit of the week, we're going to do the next best thing and embark on a short digital biology project to see what we can find.

Stay tuned and see for yourself why digital biology is so much fun.

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