TBT: Fastplant Growing Tips

Editor’s Note: So, Brad Williamson is a pretty big influence on science educators here in Kansas and across the country.¬†Here is a post he originally put on the BioBlog in August 2013. Fastplants are a good way to teach genetics, botany, evolution, ecology… maybe it would be easier to say they are a very robust model organism. ūüôā ¬† Enjoy, and let us know if you plan on using Fastplants this school year!

Since many AP Biology teachers are trying to grow Fastplants for the first time, I thought I’d do a few blog posts that follow a generation of Fastplants in my lab. ¬†When I was in the high school classroom I always had a surplus of seed stock available because I was always growing the plants. ¬†Now, ¬†I just grow them occassionally because I think it is fun and also to provide starter seed stock for the new biology teachers that graduate from our UKanTeach program. ¬†Back in July I was fortunate to travel up to the University of Wisconsin for another Fastplant workshop. ¬†Paul and Hedi had Fastplants growing in a number of different types of containers

but I was particularly interested in the deli/discovery cup growing systems because they are very close the the technique I used to use in my classes back when film canisters were available.

The water reservoir (the deli container) can be used to also deliver soluble fertilizer so there is minimal care needed.  These containers are a bit small for weekends so I chose to use 16 oz. containers.

I returned from Wisconsin with some new ideas to try out as well as some seed.  Note that I brought the seed back stuck in tape.  We used the tape to pick the seed up and folded it back over itself to seal the seed in after making a couple of folded over tabs on the end.

You’ll find a description of this technique in several of the resources on the Fastplant website: ¬†http://www.fastplants.org/pdf/growing_instructions.pdf

In the mean time one of my former students asked me about growing Fastplants so I decided to go out and get some more current cost estimates for supplies.  Assuming you have a light source but otherwise are starting from scratch here is what I found.

Soluble fertilizer from a local garden store:  20-20-20 with micronutrients

Artificial seed starter mix soil:

or a larger bag:

Deli Growing containers from Party America or Party City:

along with lids:

The portion cups from Party America cost about $3.50 per 100 1.25 oz. cups. ¬†I already had quite a bit of yellow braided nylon mason twine from Home Depot so I don’t have a cost for that. ¬†The neat thing about this system is that the individual cups can be moved about and that module based system is pretty easy to manage in a classroom. ¬†I also purchased a can of Flat Black Spray Paint (one coat) that I used to paint the deli containers and lids to hopefully reduce algae growth in the water reservoirs.

I marked and cut 1 and 3/8 inch diameter holes in the lids to hold the cups. ¬†I purchased a 1 and 3/8 inch spade bit to do this for about $5. ¬†The holes are cut very carefully and slowly by running the drill backwards or counterclockwise. ¬†In that way the bit just kind of scratches its way through the thin plastic of the lid. ¬†Going in the forward or clockwise direction will likely lead to different levels of disaster—the bit is not designed to cut into such thin material in the forward direction. ¬†If you drill that way you’ll just tear up the lid and likely not produce any holes that will work.

Marking the hole locations with a paper template.

Carefully drilling in reverse to cut the holes:

I added 250 ml of dilute fertilizer solution to each deli system.  I mixed the 1 measure (a full bottle cap from a 20 oz. soda bottle) fertilizer in 1 liter of water and then diluted that stock solution 1 part stock solution to 7 parts water.   I also drilled 1/8 inch holes in the bottom of the 1.25 oz. portion cups, added a 6 inch length of twine to serve as a wick, added moist soil mix to the cups to get ready to plant.

You can see the bluish fertilizer in the systems to the left and the wicks extending out of the cups on the right.  I moisten the soil so that I can work with it in a gallon plastic bag by squeezing water into it.  You can see the bag at the top of the tray.  Before I place a cup of soil into one of the systems I first make sure that the wicking system is working.  To do that I gently poured water from the pitcher in one of the cups until water was dripping from the wick.  This ensures that the soil is moist as well.  Once the water was dripping from the wick I transferred the cup to one of the growing systems.

I then planted 4-6 seeds in each cup (I will trim this back to only two plants in each cup in about a week). ¬†The seeds were simply dropped onto the surface of the moist soil. ¬†They are not “planted” beneath the surface.

At this point I added a little bit of horticultural vermiculite to the surface of each cup.  I got this tip from Paul W.   You could sprinkle a little bit of soil at this point but vermiculite helps the germinating plant to escape its seed coat.  I did not include the vermiculite in the costs above but I imagine it is around $8 for a small bag that will last for years of classroom plantings.

The systems then went under the lights.  Notice how close I have positioned the lights for now.

Day 0.

Day 1:  No apparent change:

Day 2:  We have germination

Day 3:  Most of the plants have germinated.  The cotyledons are expanding.

I’ll continue to report on this round of growing Fastplants.

BW

Reason #47 to Talk Soils with your Students

KABT816VennDiag.001If you are a person that falls into the center of a Venn Diagram with one circle representing RadioLab listeners and the other representing people that watched/attended the 2015 KABT Fall Meeting, you might have already made this connection. If you are not if you fit into this Venn Diagram at all, please do yourself a favor and check out this, and¬†this, and this, and also this… I can wait.

Are you back? Pretty neat, right?

Radiolab’s latest podcast is one of their best (soils bias showing here a bit) and deals with the importance of fungal communities to plant productivity and ecosystem health. It isn’t particularly long, so I intend to use it as homework, or an activity for a rainy day in case one of my sections somehow gets way ahead of the others. #WoodWideWeb 😂

At our 2015 Fall Conference, we had presentations from KU researchers Dr. Ben Sikes and Dr. Peggy Schultz that really lit a fire under the people in attendance. Their research deals with some of the myriad ecological applications of fungi in prairie ecosystems. ¬†I think you will notice some crossover here, which is pretty cool. Dr. Schultz’s talk is especially linked to the information in the podcast, and does a good job of touching on the science of how the AMF (mycorrhizae) function.¬†Here is video from their talks.

Dr. Peggy Schultz (Kansas Biological Survey) beginning at 00:42:15.

Dr. Ben Sikes (Kansas Biological Survey)

Where might this fit into your classes? Is this information an addition to your ecology unit? Or do you work it in when you talk fungi and/or classification? If you have more time to devote to soils and fungal-plant mutualism (environment science and field biology classes?), you might contact the two KU researchers; both labs do a really great job of outreach to classroom teachers and students. You can find their contact information here.

Figure courtesy Dr. Dan Carter http://sewrpc.academia.edu/DanielCarter
Effect of AMF on Growth in Grass Species. Figure courtesy Dr. Dan Carter http://sewrpc.academia.edu/DanielCarter

Not sure where this fits into your class, but want to try? Post a question in the comments or in our Facebook group and let’s have the Hivemind work on it! And let us know if you picked up on the hidden reference to the RadioLab podcast.

 

TBT: Teaching Genetics in the 21st Century

Editor’s Note: Though not planned this way, let’s make it two in a row for Eric Kessler. He originally posted this in July 2012. With many of us starting to plan for the next school year, now is the perfect time for an article like Dr. Redfield’s. You may not agree with everything therein, but it is definitely thought-provoking. After reading the PLoS article, let us know what you think in the comments and we’ll get this conversation started. -AMI

Read this PLoS article

And the developing comments.

20120707-082102.jpg

TBT: Synthetic Biology (July 2010)

Editors note: This post on Synthetic Biology was originally published on the BioBlog 18 July 2010. While he at one point mentions that he doesn’t “pretend to be an expert” on SynBio, author Eric Kessler has gone on to do some amazing work with his students in the field. Somethings have changed in six years (here is a story by Ed Yong from March 2016), but please enjoy this look back into our archives.¬†


The 21st Century Prometheans?

A little over a year ago, Brad posted a link to a survey on Synthetic Biology.  Although it appears that little has fundamentally changed since then, this burgeoning field, along side nanotechnology, has become front page news, and will hopefully become a topic of conversation in your biology class in the near future.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Synthetic Biology but I thought a few resources may provide you with enough background knowledge to approach the topic with your students this year.¬† Maybe they could use this post itself as a springboard for discussion or more research.¬† The post is in three parts, each accompanied by some thought provoking quotes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…

Early Years and Standford’s¬†Drew Endy

In these links you will will find a reference to one of the first papers in the field, a few comic responses to the field, and links to two YouTube videos (originally TED Talks) of Drew Endy explaining the difference between Synthetic Biology and the more standard and familiar recombinant DNA and genetic engineering technologies.

“The world was to him a secret which he desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to him, are among the earliest sensations he can remember . . . It was the secrets of heaven and earth that he desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied him, still his inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”

  1. Synthetic Biology: Engineering Escherichia coli to see light (November 2005)
  2. Nature’s comic on Synthetic Biology¬†(November 2005)
  3. The Story of Synthia Рanother comic look at synthetic biology
  4. Synthetic Biology Organization with a press link to numerous popular critiques of synthetic biology
  5. SEED’s Cribsheet on Synthetic Biology (July 2010)

(June 2007)

(December 2008)

Venter creates the News¬†& President Obama’s Responds

“There was none among the myriads of men that existed who would pity or assist me; and should I feel kindness towards my enemies? No: from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this insupportable misery.”

(May 2010)

  1. The President’s Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee’s Inaugural Meeting (May 2010)
  2. NPR Story, Presidential Panel Scrutinizes Synthetic Biology (July 2010)

Resources for those interested in Doing some Synthetic Biology

The following resources are for entering the field of Synthetic Biology.¬† The first link¬†will introduce you to¬†an annual competition used to motivate undergraduate teams of students to design and engineer novel pathways in E. coli.¬† If you search around, I think that you’ll find that there has been a single high school team involved in the competition before.¬† Some of university sponsors are quite interested in developing a kit to introduce students to the methods synthetic biology.

  1. iGEM 2010
  2. Authentic Teaching and Learning through Synthetic Biology based the E. coli engineered to sense light
  3. The BioBricks Foundation
  4. Registry of Standard Biological Parts
  5. BioBrick Assembly Kit from New England BioLabs

“‘The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind.”

CALL FOR PROPOSALS- KABT Fall Conference 2016

Colleagues! ¬†It is my pleasure to invite you to fill out a proposal to share your experiences with the KABT membership at our Fall Conference. This year’s conference will take place 9/10/2016 on the campus of Emporia State University. Our conference theme is the use of organisms in the classroom, and biohazard safety, storage, and disposal. Please fill out the proposal form below. If you have any questions, contact Drew Ising at andrewising@gmail.com. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to receiving your presentation proposals!