Episode 40: Román Ramos Báez on PLANTS

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[this transcript has been automatically generated and has not yet been edited for clarity or accuracy]

Charles 0:24
Hello and welcome to Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa 0:28
And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.

Charles 0:31
And today as our guest we have plant scientist Román Ramos Báez, who also goes by Romi. Romi has a BS in Plant Biology and Genetics from UC Berkeley, where they studied hormone signaling and floral development of the banana family. He’s a sixth year graduate student at the University of Washington biology department and she continues to study hormone signaling using yeast to test the kinetics of the auxin signaling network in maize. Romi, welcome to the show.

Romi 0:56
Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Charles 0:58
Thank you so much for coming on. So to begin with, we normally like to ask our guests, how did you get interested in science?

Romi 1:04
There’s like cutesy stories and then there’s like, react or other more complicated ones. But I think one cutesy one is I was taking like AP Bio in high school, and I grew up in the Dominican Republic so it was already I was already kind of surrounded by really exciting plants, a lot of rainforest and savannas and mountains with pine trees, like every kind of biome imaginable. And I remember just being really fascinated with, with the plant science stuff. And we had we were studying for the AP Bio exam. And the teacher at the time asks me like she she’s going through questions, then she stops, she’s like, Oh, I’m not going to ask all these questions. These are about plants. And we don’t study plants. Plants are boring. And I had gone through the textbook and read those sections because I just thought they were interesting. And so I told her to ask it anyways, camera what the question was, but the answer was oxygen. And I study oxygen now and it’s and I’m like, fully a plant biologist. So I think it’s really funny that my biology teacher thought plants are super boring, even skipped it. And I always kind of was fascinated by why do you find plants so interesting? Oh, my gosh, this is so many things. Okay, if you’re a chemist, plants are chemical making machines, they make so many different things we use as drugs, food structures, if you’re like a material scientist, they’re interesting for their lignin for the cellulose for different porosities of like, your geneticists, kind of like I am a little bit plants are like super rapidly evolving, like they’re really tolerant to other genomes duplicating. So they have a lot of like rapidly evolving gene families, they’re also very pretty, they’re nice. I feel comfortable poking and prodding at them in lab, because they’re just plants. So there’s a lot of reasons to study plants. I will

Charles 2:46
say, as an entomologist, one of my greatest shames is that I don’t know more about plants, because it’s such an obvious thing to also know

Romi 2:55
about. I mean, that makes sense, right? It’s like they co evolved so much, right? Well, and it’s also like,

Charles 3:00
I think the example that people bring up, I don’t know something about the major radiation and Beatles was because of the evolution of flowering plants or something. I’m not a Beatles guy. So I know, you know, nobody fact check me, I took one course in botanical systematics during my master’s. And that’s where 99% of what I know about,

Romi 3:24
there’s always time to learn. Yeah, I’m not dead

Charles 3:27
yet. Well, so you referenced it a little bit. But can you tell us more about what you’re working on now.

Romi 3:32
So right now, I have a project where I’m studying the oxygen signaling pathways. So I guess there’s so many little things to explain, because I’m studying maize, but I’m using yeast to study maize. But then I’m studying like this hormone pathway in plants that people probably don’t know about. So where do I start signaling pathway? It’s basically if let’s say, a hormone walks into your cell, and it’s telling you to do something, the way that cells do stuff is that they changed the kind of genes are expressing. And so a signaling pathway is basically a group of proteins that work instead of a sort of a pathway to turn that like molecule coming into the cell into Okay, well, this is a receptor protein tells this other protein to tell the another protein, so on so forth, to tell a transcription factor to like turn something on or turn something off. And so in the case of oxen signaling pathway, there’s three, three steps.

Charles 4:28
Another question, which is probably a very basic one, but interesting, nevertheless, of what makes something specifically a hormone, like what is a hormone structurally and what defines it as a category?

Romi 4:42
It’s a chemical signal that helps cells communicate with each other across long distances. So hormones like oxygen, which are like tryptophan derived

Charles 4:51
sort of a sidestep tryptophan is probably familiar to a lot of people as the thing in Turkey that makes you sleepy. So what what is it Do what does it mean in plants then? Because I think maybe another interesting idea is that there are a lot of things in plants and in Plant Biology that ostensibly are familiar to people, but that they only know about in the context of animals like hormones.

Romi 5:17
Yeah, well, the major difference between plants and there’s actually not that much that’s different. And when you get down to like the cellular level, as an organism, the cells can’t move past each other, you know, they can’t run up and down like blood cells do or slide past each other kind of like your your immune cells, like looking between cells for bacteria, or whatever, because they’re stuck in place. And this little grid of cellulose, which is their cell walls, they kind of have to just put out signals and chemical signals. And that’s how they end up communicating. So they’ll oxen for example, which is the hormone that I study, it gets produced up in the chute, and it goes all the way down to the roots. And it does that through the vascular tissue. A big different way of thinking about plants is not just their fractal nature, but also the fact that the cells are kind of stuck next to each other.

Charles 6:06
That’s actually genuinely something that I had never considered, but in retrospect, does seem really distinct. And obviously, obvious and important.

Romi 6:19
Yeah, yeah. And plants are also stuck in the ground, right? So like, they can’t run away from I mean, I guess pollen goes really long distances, but like a single organism, plant, you know, it has to be responding to the environment constantly. And so that’s another thing hormones do is it’ll tell the plant Okay, well, the sun’s shining, like y’all better turn on those. Turn on those chloroplasts real quick or maybe it’s shining too bright. Let’s move those chloroplasts away. And they do they like actually like, shift the location of the chloroplasts of the cell does doesn’t get burned or open, there’s somata to like, release different gases or water and stomata or like openings in the cell wall, right? Yeah. They’re, they’re groups of cells that open little pores in the leaves. usually think of them as like your pores on your skin. Yeah, multicellular plants. Yeah, I guess I’ll give you one more thing about plant development, that’s different from animal development. And it’s that and it’s important to how oxen works, right? With a plant. There isn’t like a determined amount of leaves, or stems, or other organs that you kind of end up having throughout your life, right. But with animals, there is you know, your, your embryo kind of already has in it, all your little fingers and with little fingernails and all your little your one stomach that you get

Charles 7:40
such losers,

Romi 7:42
one stomach, just one stomach. I mean, plants don’t have any stomach. So I guess they’re the losers, right? That means that plants have a lot more like morphological diversity with with really tiny tweaks to like that hormone signaling, for example. And that’s kind of what oxen does. Oxen is that like hormone that is involved in pretty much every growth and developmental process that plants go through, whether it’s like detecting the direction of gravity, detecting the direction of light and the intensity of light, they it helps to determine how many stems and roots how many times they the roots branch, the shape of leaves, whether they have lots of lobes or not flower formation. So they it really is involved in so so many things. And yet, when we go all the way down to this, like the signaling pathway, there’s three components that I mean, they’ve duplicated massively, and those families have expanded, but there’s, there’s a receptor, there’s the transcription factor, and then there’s the we’ll call it the CO receptor in the middle, the receptor, in this case, the receptor and the CO receptor, you can imagine them as being two different classes of proteins. And I mean, imagine so receptors would you would think so let’s imagine like a little like a golf ball is in your hand, like the golf balls, the oxen and the hand but like, can detect that the golf ball is like, has a little golf ball shaped hole in it. That’s the receptor. But the way that oxygen works is the receptor also requires another component to kind of sandwich together the golf balls. We’re putting both you’re

Charles 9:22
just I just this just occurred to me would have met better metaphor, maybe be a baseball mitt and a baseball.

Romi 9:29
Oh my gosh, that is the one that I was like, what is the what sport is it? They usually Yeah, that’s exactly it. We

Charles 9:37
kiss them. The baseball mitt specifically is like you can’t catch like a soccer ball on the baseball mitt. Probably a much better analogy. I’ve never baseball minim my

Romi 9:49
most of the minute and I should know about baseball but I’ll start there. Then the way that the receptor works is it’s like a baseball mitt. And it only can Catch baseball’s, which is the oxen. But it’s different from that in that there you need kind of a second hand to come in to like really sandwich that baseball for the whole system to work and to signal the transcription factors to turn on genes and turn off genes. So it’s more like the oxygen is the glue, that sticking together this receptor and this CO receptor. And so when that gluing happens, that CO receptor gets degraded. Usually that CO receptor is stuck to the transcription factors, and it’s turning them off. But when it gets degraded, it releases the transcription factors and allows those genes that they that those transcription factors are bound to to turn on.

Charles 10:41
Did we define transcription factor? Yes, no.

Romi 10:47
transcription factor is a protein that instead of it sticks to DNA at promoter regions, a promoter region is the

Charles 10:59
things to know. I know it’s, it’s

Tessa 11:02
to break out the diagrams eventually.

Romi 11:05
It’s the part of the gene, it’s the part of the gene upstream of the gene that that tells the gene, whether it should be turned on or off.

Charles 11:12
So oxygen binds the receptor and the CO receptor together,

Romi 11:16
transcription factors get turned on or off because of that, basically.

Charles 11:21
So it’s a method of controlling the expression of different genes. Yeah, exactly. Right. I do actually have a side question about plant development now. Go ahead, because there are plants that kind of just grow indefinitely, right. But there also shoots up blooms once and then never blooms again. So what’s that about?

Romi 11:44
Yeah, so plants, it’s really interesting. flowers are so beautiful, right? Like so many of our foods come from flowers. But something and a lot of our foods are annuals so like they’ll they’ll bloom, and then they die, they die off doesn’t there’s nothing you can really do to keep them alive. And that has a little bit to do with oxygen, I guess. So the way that I we talked about plants kind of like making leaves indefinitely. Though, it all starts at the apical meristem, the apical meristem being a group of stem cells at the tippy top of the tallest branch of a plant. And so that meristem has all these stem cells in it. And when you start making flowers, the stem cells stop being stem cells, and they end up differentiating. And so for some plants, you can have a certain stem have that apical meristem transition into a floral meristem. And it’s fine because at, at every leaf, there’s other secondary meristems that can continue to make more and more branches and leaves. But there are certain plants like sometimes you’ll have a certain succulent kind of put out pups. And that is a branching. I’m sorry, did

Charles 12:58
you say pups?

Romi 12:59
Pups? Yeah, that’s the that’s the, like little plant.

Charles 13:02

Romi 13:04
Yeah, like little, you know, will be cute. They are cute. And I’m always going around in people’s neighborhoods and stealing their little succulent pups. And that’s valid, starting my own collection. And oxygen is basically what tells a plant, whether all those meristems, which are at every single leaf node should be branching out, you can imagine that if a plant was branching out at every single opportunity at every single leaf, it would kind of get out of control really quickly, you know how I said that oxygen starts being made at the at the tippy top at the medicine. So that signal goes down the stem, and as it goes down the stem, it gets weaker and weaker. And if you were to chop off the top of the of certain plants, that signal goes away. And so that tells all the all these meristems all the way down the branch, oh my gosh, like we lost our shoot apical meristem we’re gonna die, we need to make you start branching. And so that’s kind of a cool way that oxen determines that kind of structure.

Tessa 14:05
Is that why for like, topiary if you like, clip or trim a bush, it’ll come back for.

Romi 14:11
Exactly, yep. And so I guess you could think that that would happen with flowers, right? It’s like a way that the SAM is dying off, but it’s a way that it’s dying off that maybe the plant is is already genetically determined to be like, Okay, this this is flowering that’s happening. This isn’t like my stem being cut off. This is it’s time to go, you know, if it’s an annual annual being a plant that only lives for a season.

Charles 14:36
Well in then, is there some genetic signal that determines like, I’m going to be an annual, I’m going to be perennial. I’m going to be a tree. Also, this is just a fact that I’m gonna just gonna drop in and we can abandon but it blew my whole life apart, which is that trees are not they’re not like a colony. Laid. It’s just a thing that happens a lot. Things just become tree like,

Tessa 15:06
yep, palm trees are actually giant grasses.

Romi 15:09
Yes. Yeah, being a tree is just a vibe. It’s just

Charles 15:13
a vibe. This is because I’ve been living in this truth for about four years now. So I’ve accepted it. I’ve integrated it into my brain into my life. But whenever people learn this, I think it really throws they got us. They at least got to sit down.

Romi 15:30
Yeah, well being a tree, it comes down to you know how I said that those stem cells are all the way at the tippy top. Yes, so trees have a hole, they’re wrapped in stem cells, they have kind of a ring of stem cells all the way all the way around, there’s trunks. And these kind of consistently make wood inwards, and consistently make kind of sugar transporting, like living cells on the outside as well as bark. Which is why sometimes you see someone will kill off a tree by like, removing a ring of bark from the outside. Because really all the inside of a tree is dead. It’s It’s It’s functional cells that help kind of work at straws sucking up water and, and minerals and

Charles 16:13
such but it’s it’s a bark is alive. bark is well.

Romi 16:18
Yes and no. So there’s layers of bark and inner layer is alive.

Charles 16:24
Okay, so is it okay, so is it like bark is kind of like hair. Yes. And it’s like there are the follicular, like the follicular cells. Um, I don’t know how hair works, either. Listen, I am an entomologist. But wherever like is making the hair that’s alive. But then the hair itself is all just sort of, we’re just getting it out of there.

Romi 16:51
Yeah, I would describe it more like skin or scales in that it’s like, in that it’s like they’re they makes coloring gamma cells, glittering gamma being like the really kind of really large cell wall kind of cells, that’s fun, and goes kind of dry up over time, the cell basically it stays alive in the middle and makes as much of this like cell wall as possible. And then it gets thicker and thicker. And the thicker it gets, the less kind of nutrients get into it. And it just basically shrivels up in the process that turns into the bark tissue eventually,

Charles 17:27
plants. This is this is my real takeaway. And we’re not over yet. Because all this time, I was thinking that I was just out here having a great time dealing with our own terrestrial aliens, because insects are so gosh darn weird. But in truth, the real aliens were everywhere around us all the time to begin with, because plants are strange.

Romi 17:52
Yeah, yeah, they really are. i It’s funny that you say that because I think of us kind of being the aliens. Plants are just the norm. They’re everywhere. They’re like most of the biomass. You’re not wrong. And then we started moving ourselves around and doing embryo stuff.

Charles 18:10
I don’t know. Well, I will say that mammals were a mistake. That’s, that’s where all land. Insects are out. They’re having a great time they’re doing good work really is pollinating

Tessa 18:21
or you say that Charles, but without mammals, we would not have cats.

Romi 18:25
Oh, that’s true.

Charles 18:26
That’s always the gist. It was all worth it for that, but fairly.

Romi 18:32
Sometimes I look at my cat and I feel so sad that they can’t taste sweet. They don’t have sweet receptors. Now, how can they enjoy plants without sleep? And they’re carnivores? Ah, it’s so sad.

Charles 18:44
Yeah, think any cat graph, you know? Yeah, I guess my so I have two cats. And my first cat was always very good. Never any, like, picky about cat food even so like not trying to eat everything that I was eating. But my second cat. He doesn’t want to consume it, but he wants to taste everything. And I have to be like, buddy, I’m a vegetarian, first of all. So this isn’t for you. And then secondly, so much of what I like I you know, I cook. Everything has onions and garlic in it. That’ll kill you, bud. That’ll kill you dead.

Romi 19:26
Yep, same situation here. Plant based household cat will not touch my food. And that’s a great thing. But I guess the the the moral of the story is that even even carnivores are interested in plants are excited. Yeah, yes.

Charles 19:40
They just can’t they’re so alluring. So oxygens hormone. I haven’t even

Romi 19:47
told you about all the yeast.

Charles 19:49
Yeah, well, that’s actually that. Yeah, exactly. You’re telling me you’re studying plants but you’re actually studying yeast, which is fungus and lying to us the whole whole time,

Romi 20:00
I lied, I lied. I’ve only really grown very few plants. And the reason why you can imagine, well, yeasts are just so amazing as like a model organism. They’re sturdy, you can pipette them up and down, you can centrifuge them on maximum speeds, you can freeze them. They’re so tiny, they’re single cells, plants, they can be quite finicky, especially if you’re studying kind of like an agriculturally important plant like maize, which is kind of what I was interested in. They take a whole either an annual, they take a whole year to make a cob, and I’m trying to study kind of like

Charles 20:35
cob from Iran, if you’re a grad student, you’re on a schedule,

Romi 20:38
I’m on a schedule. I’ve been here for six years. I love being here, actually. But I can I explain how kind of the oxygen signaling pathways only really three components, the receptor, the the CO receptor and the transcription factor. Turns out, you can put those into yeast cells and use the yeast to kind of study those components at the genetic level. We can’t really study how they control like dammar, or root formation within the cells, but we can study, you know, the speed at which they respond to oxygen, the sensitivity, which were this respond to oxygen.

Tessa 21:15
How do they normally respond? I mean, if they’re not growing like, roots, presumably, are

Romi 21:20
Yeah, great question. So we’ll take a gene, or sorry, a promoter that those oxen transcription factors normally bind to and activate and downstream of it, we instead of putting a plant, whatever gene, we put a fluorescent gene. So yeah, so when we turn on the, when we add oxygen to the or little yeast cells, it’ll start fluorescing brightly with her.

Charles 21:41
And this is this is a technology that’s not uncommon in labs, which do some sort of genetic engineering, because the fluorescent gene is not, that’s not necessarily the object of what you’re trying to accomplish. But it’s a signal that you have accomplished something, right?

Romi 22:00
Absolutely. Yeah. And so it’s an easy way to see the intensity and the speed at which we’re getting a signal. And you’d be surprised just how quickly we can see an oxygen response. Within minutes, you can see that kind of degradation of that CO receptor, happening and within Yeah, and still, within minutes, you can see the gene being expressed. It’s really exciting. And it makes sense that a plant has to react really quickly, because again, it can’t move, it needs to change quickly to match its environment to stay alive.

Charles 22:37
Well, I’m about to ask you a wildly speculative question that you would have no way to actually have an answer to. So we’ll see what happens. But so we know that there are like carnivorous plants, right, that are mixed troves that take in different forms of input for energy sources, and that kind of etc, etc, right? So there are plants that effectively kind of eat meat. So why are there not plants that have evolved little legs to move themselves around,

Romi 23:11
because legs are useless? No. They don’t need legs. I mean, plants really do move a lot. It’s funny, because I’m keep saying how they don’t move and how important that is. But if you really think about it, there’s two things that are happening one, and you can think of this is like where entomology comes in. Plants have made made themselves attractive to animals in really important steps at different parts of the development that kind of allows the animals to do all the work for them. They’ll get the bees to move their pollen for them, or the wind to move their pollen for them. If you’re like a grass, they get animals like us to move around their fruit, and to either toss them out, like miles away or poop them out. So they we have, they have all these pollinator interactions, they have seed dispersal interactions as well. So we’ll have certain plants that stick to your they have seeds that stick to your hair, they stick to your skin with spikes or other kind of mechanisms. So yeah, plants are really figured out. I don’t need legs, all these other animals have legs and they can kind of do the work for us.

Charles 24:22
And there are some plants that can kind of that you can sort of pick up the whole thing and just move it like all the air plants that they sell at craft stores. Yeah, or not craft stores that craft festivals.

Romi 24:34
Yeah, yeah, those airplanes I mean normally they would be there epiphytes, which means that they live on branches, and oh, they kind of they kind of grip really hard to those branches.

Charles 24:48
And we don’t get so by selling all these air plants at Craft festivals and whatever are we depriving them of their best lives? Like are we is it a like a situation where like a lot of people get fish They’re like, Oh, you don’t actually need to take care of fish, but actually the fish are not having a good time.

Romi 25:05
I think if it’s a plant and it’s in your house you’ve already deprived and of its best day. I mean, in some ways, yeah, these are all plants. It should be somewhere in like the Amazon rainforest, or like, down in like Costa Rica. For the most part, we grow like tropical plants that need high humidity, like a big reason why they die, or they need a lot of light and they just can’t get enough light. If you’re talking about succulent. So yeah, they’re not too happy. But plants are resilient. And they usually find a way.

Charles 25:40
Okay, another plant question that’s been on my mind for years. What is up with bonsai?

Romi 25:47
Uh huh. I’ve been like, fascinated by bonsai recently. Yeah.

Charles 25:53
How they just look like small tree.

Romi 25:58
Yeah, I mean, again, plants being really resilient. They the way that with Bonds eyes, I as far as I know, I’m no bonds i Master or I don’t know what you would call a bonsai artists, I’m sure there’s a term but um, so a lot of plants, they grow their roots, the structure of roots can be very different, right sometimes go really deep roots, some plants grow roots that just kind of skim the surface of the soil. Usually big trees will will make deep roots that kind of keep them stuck to the ground so they can put tons and tons of wood up. But um, anyways, with with bonsai, you cut the roots back continuously. And you also kind of keep the plants rootbound in their pots. And this really stops the plant from being able to hold it. I don’t honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t know but I’m thinking I had to like nutrient deprive it and to like tell signal to the plant that it’s not tall enough or that it can’t get any taller because it doesn’t have the like, the roots to hold it up.

Charles 27:03
Yeah, I think what really gets me about bonsai is if you in a movie, you take a human and you make them really small. Yeah, something always looks wrong about it. Because you’re like, why know that? The physical like your organ couldn’t be that small and also work. Yeah, all of those shrinking down to go inside of people’s bodies movies are lying to you. Yeah, everybody would die. So seeing bonsai that look exactly like big trees. But they’re small.

Romi 27:37
Yeah, it I don’t understand how

Charles 27:39
it works.

Tessa 27:40
If I had to guess it might be one of those like weird fractal things where like, you know, plants just follow a pattern at every level of scale. And we just don’t normally see it at smaller scales, because it requires really weird circumstances. Like, you know, stumping its growth basically,

Charles 27:59

Romi 28:00
it’s a mixture of that embryo thing I told you were like, its number of leaves. And stems isn’t really determined at birth. So it can just have it looks like it’s a regular tree, but it has a lot less stems a lot less leaves. And usually with bonds, I they pick plants like Juniper that already have like microscopic little leaves or little pines in the leaves aren’t actually that much smaller. The fruits aren’t that much smaller. If you ever if they’ve ever seen a bonsai like tree with fruits on it. I think I’ve seen like a bonsai apple tree ones. They’ll make a huge, regular looking apple.

Charles 28:37
I’m looking at a picture right now. And it’s very humorous. Yeah. Yeah, the

Romi 28:43
organs are pretty much the same size. They’re just a lot less of them. And they’re very compacted. I love all these plant developmental questions, because I really love plant development. And that’s like the the reason why I care about oxygen so much. But then at the same time, I really haven’t. Most of the work I’ve done has been in yeast. So I’d like at the molecular level,

Tessa 29:03
what is like your optimal outcome for your research? You know, what would you be most excited to find out about oxygen and how it relates to plants? Well, that

Romi 29:11
it opens up kind of a different section of what I’m doing, which is herbicides turns out a lot of herbicides, some of the oldest herbicides we’ve been using for selective killing of they kill only you Daikon, and not grasses, they all function through the oxen signaling pathway. And they bind to the same oxygen receptors and they basically be mimic oxygens or synthetic oxygens. I’ve been trying to learn more about how they one how they, you know, function as oxygens, and also how they don’t function as oxygens like, what makes it so that they kill plants versus like oxen normally wouldn’t do that. And at the same time, why why are they only selectively killing grasses? You know, we’ve been using these for like 80 plus years, and we still don’t really know why they only seem to be or sorry, I keep saying grasses, they don’t kill grasses grass, that’s a good thing. Most of what we eat is a grass, corn, greens, etc, I really care about the little things I want to learn more about, I hope my research shines a light into the evolution of the oxen signaling pathway. And hopefully I can use herbicides to shine the light on how these receptors interact so differently in different plants with different small molecules. Yeah, I want to learn a lot more. It’s a really like a molecular evolution side of things that interests me. Right now I’m doing directed mutagenesis or directed evolution, which allows me to basically pick an amino acid in the in the protein of preference, in this case, the receptor and make and switch it with every single possible amino acid in its place instead, and see how that affects the function if I can make a stronger receptor or probably most likely a receptor that is weaker in function. And I’m doing and I selected kind of three different amino acids at the binding pocket that I am making every possible combination of and then testing to see what mutations kind of allow for more promiscuous binding of herbicides and oxygens, which ones are allowed, make more restrictive binding, so that maybe we have receptors that only bind to herbicides or only bind to the native, true oxen, prudish binding, you might promiscuous versus prudish binding. I don’t know why the industry term is promiscuous mutations. But that’s

Charles 31:35
I mean, people in animal behavior still refer to like verge, like in teresopolis studies, it’s very, very common to hear virgin flies, like, come on.

Romi 31:49
Yeah, I’m trying to what wouldn’t be a better term for a promiscuous mutation? I mean, non selective? Well, I

Tessa 31:56
guess that means something else, though.

Romi 31:57
Yeah, because what it does is a mutation that not only allows more binding of different things, but it also kind of opens up the protein for evolution it by changing what it binds to, or by allowing it to change what it’s what it’s going to bind to in the next module, maybe

Tessa 32:13
I suppose to formal? Ah,

Romi 32:19
yes, open, you know,

Charles 32:21
open hearted. Yeah, you know, friendly. It is actually if because I don’t think we’ve really talked about sort of the, like, the, the molecular evolution of plants. Yeah. And just like how, because plants are very weird. This is, this is what I do know about plants, because plants will like they often double up their genes, right? Like, they end up with double the number of chromosomes that they used to have.

Romi 32:51
And oftentimes, if you were to do that in an animal,

Charles 32:55
they would just, yeah, you would, they would just freak out

Romi 32:59
with like, grains, almost all the plants. So we’ve like domesticated, we double or quadruple the number of chromosomes. And it just makes them bigger. It just makes bigger, juicy or grain. Well, I

Charles 33:11
guess this, it probably, this is wild speculation at this point. But I wonder if it’s connected to that what you said earlier about how they don’t have like a definitive discrete body plan where you’re going to grow to have six limbs, two wings, and that’s it. And then a lot of the genetic studies with like Drosophila, for instance, they’ll introduce mutants where they have two sets of wings, or where they have no wings, or whatever, and you’re messing with that deterministic sort of body plan. Whereas with plants, as you said, a lot of them just, they just keep on going

Romi 33:48
that indeterminate morphology of plants really, it’s like, that’s a predominant hypothesis for why plants are so kind of lenient with allowing themselves to, to kind of evolve and mutate quickly. And that ends up being true that plants are just, they evolve very rapidly, they change their their whole genomes very rapidly. And that’s kind of what’s happened with with the oxen signaling pathway, just to bring it back to that is, I told you that there’s these three components, but there’s six, it doesn’t have an opposite, which is a plant that we study very closely. It’s like one of the most well studied model organisms in genetics. There’s six receptors and isn’t it it like mustard? Yeah, it’s it’s in the broccoli mustard family brassica wrap, which is like a lot of different things, including, I think, cabbage. That one is actually pretty closely related to her but opsis It does have a duplication though. Again, like like most things we eat, they they’re just bigger because they have more more genes. And then there’s more complicated than that, but that’s like a general rule.

Charles 34:56
Is there anything about plants that you would like like to get on the record, before we stop talking about plants, or potentially a misconception that people have about your field a lot.

Romi 35:12
I’ll give you kind of a funny one. And this happens even when I go on dates. People always ask me about their house plants and how to take care of their house plant. The misconception is that plant people are good at taking care of plants. No, like, I know, I can tell you so much about plants at the molecular level at the genetic level. I don’t know how many times you’re supposed to water your plants. I don’t know what kind of plant that is. I’m not a botanist. I know it’s pretty and I wish you so much luck.

Charles 35:41
This feels a little bit like meeting a linguistics major and asking them how many languages they speak. One, you know, because you’re not a language student. You’re a linguistics dude. You’re not learning how to speak languages, you’re learning how to analyze them for patterns. Yeah,

Romi 36:02
I am a geneticist and molecular biologists, I’m an evolutionary biologist. And my model organism happens to be plants. That’s how I see it, and God

Charles 36:11
bless them. So the final thing we do in every episode is we ask our guests to weigh in on one of our recurring questions. Is there one or more that you would particularly like to answer? I love the robot one if I could put my brain in a robot. So okay, so that one is you’re about to die. Like you know that you you know, your body is terminal status, but your brain is fine. And you have the option to transplant your brain into a robot body. Do you take it? Okay, probably

Romi 36:48
no, but if I’m going to say yes, I think I’ve been an agent of chaos in many ways, with my drag shows and things like that. And I would love to continue to be that. And so I would love to be put into a Furby. Their rise people. Like, I don’t need me, I

Tessa 37:07
like the way you think. I don’t need to walk around.

Romi 37:10
I don’t need to, you know, do science. I just need to like wake up in the middle of night and start making Furby noises or

Charles 37:18
my only furry story is that. Of course they had a Fermi obviously. Yes, a child of the 90s had a Furby and you could get it to call you daddy or mommy. And my Furby resolutely would only call me daddy. And I was like, I’m not daddy, Furby. But now I’m trans. And that’s Furbies did that. I was gonna be straight. I was gonna be CES. And then I got a Furby

Romi 37:51
that Barbie said trans rights and we love

Charles 37:55
her razor. Interesting. Have you seen the long Furbies that people may?

Romi 38:00
Oh my gosh. You mean like the they stick together? The old school Furbies into like a

Charles 38:05
Yeah, it’s like a full color into P

Romi 38:07
Yeah. Yes. centipede yes, that Well,

Charles 38:10
I only say not because caterpillars only technically have three sets of legs. And then they have pro legs on their abdomen. That’s very interesting. Getting back to sort of a deterministic body plan. Insects, you know, even as larvae, they still have all the same body segments. It’s just that they look different. So if you look at a caterpillar, you can see that it has three sets of like segmented legs up front. And then it has the squishy things down back. But those are extensions of its abdomen. And they’re called Pro legs, and they got a little claws so that they can climb on stuff.

Romi 38:44
Wow. I’d be really surprised if like millipedes always have the same number of legs or centipedes just because do you

Charles 38:53
mean all species in the group or all individuals in a species all individuals

Romi 38:58
in the species just because you gotta either? I don’t know. What’s the fun of that? What’s the fun in that? For determining?

Charles 39:06
Yeah, throw in a little bit of morphological plasticity just for fun. Friday is spice of life after all Spoken like a true plant scientist. All their vegetated morphological complexities. This one has 17 leaves, this one has to do the same. That’s what that’s that was my main take. Well, it wasn’t my main takeaway. That was one of the big takeaways of the botany course that I took where it was like the leaves can look like this. They can also not it was like, well, what could is this? After you do this to me and entomologist. We love them. So we’ve had a lot of people have answered the robot question it because so we have two outgrowth questions of it as well. One is does your new robot for the brain life count? Is it functionally immortality Um,

Romi 40:01
no. I mean, we’ve all had a Furby right? It was the last like a month. Yeah. I think I don’t I don’t need to be alive it too long. It’s okay. I almost said no to begin with, like, yes. Yes terrorize some kids, they throw me in the fireplace.

Charles 40:20
So this is kind of a grand last stand of I’m going out, but I’m not going to go out without ruining people’s lives.

Romi 40:29
Well, the parents will laugh. But yes.

Charles 40:34
You could combine everything that you do together and do a saya calm. Drag Furby robot brain performance. Have you know, the greatest piece of science outreach ever done?

Romi 40:49
If you knew all the ideas I have, oh, my God. No time no time.

Charles 40:54
Well, I say anybody out there who’s listening who is a, you know, an engineer, or robot scientist, some weirdo with a lot of gadgets. You got to get on this. We can’t let this not happen.

Romi 41:11
Yeah, please.

Charles 41:17
Rama, you’ve been a fantastic guests.

Romi 41:19
It’s been great having you on? Yeah, I’m so so happy to meet y’all. So fun to do this. And to finally get to talk science. So fun. Plants are the best.

Charles 41:29
Yeah. Well, you’ve been a fantastic guests if you ever want to come back to talk about plants, or Star Trek, or when they talk about plants in Star Trek, because there’s probably a lot there. Do you like Star Trek?

Romi 41:40
It’s like drag race right. Now I’m kidding. No, I don’t know if it’s growing in the Dominican Republic or what but I just I didn’t really watch it. I had we had Nickelodeon in Spanish. We had Cartoon Network, and we had MTV.

Charles 42:02
Well, Star Trek isn’t on any of those. I will say there is a botanist who’s a recurring character into the series.

Romi 42:09
Hmm, I would I think I would love to Start Trek. I just don’t watch TV now. Now that I’m in the US and I except for drag race.

Charles 42:19
Okay, well, I’ll find some episode that talks a lot about plants and then we can bring you back on to talk about plants in space. Happily. Okay, well Rami, if people want to find out more about you or the work that you do, where should they

Romi 42:34
look? Yes, you can find me at sensitive roots on all social medias except Tik Tok. And you can find me just set my website are rambles buys.

Charles 42:45
Fantastic. I am on Twitter at cockroach orals and Tesla.

Tessa 42:49
I am on Twitter at Space Race SP ACR ma se and I also have a website Tessa fisher.com

Charles 42:56
The show is on Twitter at a sa B pod are at our website where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode ASAP podcast.com. And if you like the show, please tell people about it because that’s supposedly the number one way that podcasts grow.

Tessa 43:11
And until next time, keep on science-ing.

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