With Day 3 given to us as an open, self directed day (reading papers, catching up on safety induction for the lab and chatting about what we had seen so far), it was nice to get into the lab on Day 4 and work with Caroline (http://www.ucd.ie/plantpalaeo/elliott-kingston.html) on some experiments that are definitely going to be of use to us in our school curriculum.
First up was a simple dissection of a flower, showing the male and female parts amd how to correctly draw / label this. In school this had seemed a fairly dry topic of discussion as students find it hard to think of a flower as having reproductive parts, but the idea of having a whole practical built up of smaller tasks relating to flower structure and dissection of the different parts will make it more attractive, especially once presented as a whole class practical with discussion groups. A slightly off topic conversation in the lab, touched on Padre Pio’s wounds being stigmatised, aphid reproduction and banana seed abortion… You have to hand it to scientists when they are together, nobody can accuse them of letting a topic go stale!
Caroline was a great host, and with her genuine excitement at discovering a well shaped stigma or perfectly formed flower, it was hard not to get sucked into the secret life of plants. (Quote “Oh look at that, have you ever seen a pollen tube like it? Have you though?!” Suddenly I was looking at them in a whole different light and I have every intention of impressing that on my students!)
Evolution and genetics were also touched upon and it became so clear to me that plants are not used enough in school to highlight random mutations and what really happens during evolution, another thing to add to my list of ideas to take away with me.
Another great experiment we set up was the growth of pollen tubes in a medium replicating that supplied when pollen lands on the female part of the flower and needs to germinate. These were left overnight and after a really enjoyable day in the lab, I can’t wait to get back in in the morning and see these. Even writing that makes me realise how great of an experience this is when I am willing to get out of my bed a bit earlier in usual to see a pollen tube! Pictures tomorrow!
On a final note, did you know that the word gymnosperm (naked seed) originated from the Greek gymno for male athletes competing naked in appreciation of the male form and a tribute to their gods? You possibly didn’t… but it is amazing what you pick up when studying plant biology!