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Update: Chilean Internship Plant Conduction Velocity Project Summary y Adiós (Por Ahora)

Global meeting. Me (upper left – Chile), Étienne (scientific advisor – upper right – Germany), Patricio (my undergraduate thesis advisor (lower left – Chile), and Tim (my supervisor at Backyard Brains – South Korea). These are our thinking faces, not our mad faces.

— Written by Carla Contreras Mena —

Hello! Carla Contreras Mena from Santiago, Chile, here again. Welcome to the conclusion of my work during my internship with Backyard Brains.

Experiment Update

In the last few months, I’ve had to study more about plants. Why? Because, In my daily life in the laboratory, I’m not very familiar with the chemistry of plants, how to take care of them, and other characteristics. But, it’s always very interesting to learn new things.

Maybe you remember this picture from the last blog (“Backyard Brains welcomes newest Chilean Intern: Conduction Velocity in Different Plants”):

Carla's plants

Why am I reminding you? My home garden currently looks a bit different: More plants, and they grew!

Carla's plants update: they grew!

In Chile during this time of the year it’s summer, although during January the temperatures went up a lot. This caused the plants to have a hard time, however, many of them survived and are still giving a lot of data (at least).

The current plants are Chilean Chile, Ornamental Chile, Basil, Creeping Inchplant, Argentian Dollar, Hierba Buena, Mint, Rosemary, Ruda, Tomato, and the Venus Flytrap. You can see my numbers breakdown below, lots of recordings: 192!

Summary of all plants experimented on

What About the Data?

During the experiments, I have been able to realize that each of the plants has its own characteristics. While some take a lot of experiments to get good data, others are much more pleasant. An example of the latter is the Chilean Chile (lol – the name of my country has nothing to do with the name of the plant – common misconception – the origin of my country’s name is speculated to be a Mapuche word). My curiosity about plants led me to this characteristic plant. If you notice, the plant consists of a few leaves and a long stem. When I put the two electrodes and I did the thermal stimulation, I saw the result was surprisingly clear.

Result of thermal stimulation on a plant using Spike Recorder App

We can observe the recorded data on the Spike Recorder App and clearly see two peaks very similar with a time difference of 3.1 s, the distance of the electrodes is 28.69 mm, which gives us a conduction velocity of 9.1 mm/s. This data is quite close to the average data I have obtained during these months of experiments (8.0 ± 6.0 mm/s, n = 120 after artefact rejection). 

I collected a lot of data! Typically 20-30 recordings per plant.. We are now in the process of building the drafts of figures for (fingers crossed) hopeful formal publication sometime this year. Here is a very early draft of Figure 1:

Exemplary traces across different plant species

This data is “raw and unfiltered”, but you can clearly see delays in all the plants we studied, typically on the order of 2-26 mm/s. Interestingly, non-rapid movement plants had a conduction velocity of 2-9 mm/s on average, but the Venus Flytrap, which is a “rapid movement plant”, has a conduction velocity of 26.5 mm/s. It’s expected that it would be faster for obvious reasons.

Here is draft of Figure 2, showing our experimental set up:

Experimental setup with Ruda Plant

For Figure 3, which we are still preparing, will show all the traces we recorded. Figure 4 will show box plot averages of all the conduction velocities we measured, grouped by plant species.

It’s a Good Bye…

Working with plants has brought me great experiences and surprises. During these months I have been able to obtain experimental data without having to be in a university laboratory, but my newly inaugurated home laboratory! 

Curious people have asked me if It’s really necessary to be an expert, and I believe that many times not. In my case I have been able to carry out my experiments with a biochemical and electrophysiological background, but you can always do experiments if you have the equipment, curiosity, or love for plants!

On March 20th my internship ended, the day in Chile of the seasonal change from summer to fall. My data collection part is over, we will continue analyzing my data over the next couple months. Who knows, maybe this is not the real end of my experience with Backyard Brains. Maybe some scientific publication? We shall see!

After finishing my work with plants, I must continue with my thesis in the Neurosciences laboratory, and thus, finish my last semester of my biochemistry degree. Ciao por ahora!

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