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Microphotographs

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£20 Bank Note issued in Manchester 21 Jan 1858. John B Dancer No.51

Whilst cataloging some of the large collection of microscope slides in the herbarium I came across some slides with intriguing labels.  One was labelled ‘The Moon”, another “Nelson Meditating His Prayer before the Battle of  Trafalgar” and another  “£20 Bank Note” – not the kind of thing we normally come across in the botany stores.  I immediately set about viewing the slides under a microscope and was amazed to actually pictures of Nelson, the moon and a bank note.  In the corner of the slides was the initial J.B.D.

The Moon, photographed from nature, March 12 1869

After a few minutes on Google, I discovered that these slides were made by the 19th Century Manchester instrument maker and inventor of microphotography, John Benjamin Dancer.  Dancer’s first example of microphotography was produced in 1839 and they soon became popular with microscopists.

“Dancer did not have any mass production method for turning out his micro-photograph slides and though it must have been very time consuming he is reported as having made many thousands. The method employed was explained by Mr.J.F.Stirling writing in Watsons Microscope Record No.45, Oct.1938, p.16. A glass negative of the photograph to be reduced was placed in a lantern illuminated by a flame. The image of the photograph was projected through a microscope objective mounted horizontally on to the sensitized collodion film supported on a glass sheet. Dancer speeded up production slightly by duplicating the contraption with two lanterns placed back to back with one illuminating flame in the space between the two lanterns, the whole assembly being covered over with a canvas tent to keep out the light. The exceedingly small piece of collodion film containing the positive microphotograph image was mounted in balsam beneath a cover glass on a standard 3 x 1 slide.” – The Microphotograph Slides Of John B. Dancer and Richard Suter by Roy Winsby

NELSON, Meditating his Prayer before the battle of Trafalgar. Painted by Lucy, Engraved by Sharpe. John B Dancer No.49

The practice of mounting microphotographs eventually became seen as frivolous by serious microsopists and their popularity waned.  However, during the Franco-Prussian War the benefits  for smuggling information on microphotographs meant that the technology developed by Dancer was given a new and very practical application.

Here is a list of Dancer’s Microphotographs.

Thanks to David Green for taking the photos of the slides.

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Gene Discovery to Increase Biomass Needed for Green Fuel

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Manchester scientists have identified the genes that make plants grow fatter and plan to use their research to increase plant biomass in trees and other species – thus helping meet the need for renewable resources.

 “The US has set the ambitious goal of generating a third of all liquid fuel from renewable source by the year 2025. Estimates suggest to reach their goal they would need 1 billion tonnes of biomass, which is a lot,” says Professor Simon Turner, one of the University of Manchester researchers whose BBSRC-funded study is published in Development today (Wednesday 10th February 2010).

 “Our work has identified the two genes that make plants grow outwards. The long, thin cells growing down the length of a plant divide outwards, giving that nice radial pattern of characteristic growth rings in trees. So you get a solid ring of wood in the centre surrounded by growing cells. Now we have identified the process by which the cells know how to grow outwards, we hope to find a way of making that plants grow thicker quicker, giving us the increased wood production that could be used for biofuels or other uses.

 “And there is an added benefit. There are concerns that the growing of biofuel products competes with essential food production. However, the part of the plant we have studied is the stalk – not the grain – so there will be no competition with food production.”

 Professor Turner and Dr Peter Etchells, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, studied the plant Arabidopsis which does not look like a tree but has a similar vascular system, (which carries water and sugar around the plant). They investigated growth in the vascular bundles and found that the genes PXY and CLE41 directed the amount and direction of cell division. Furthermore, they found over-expression of CLE41 caused a greater amount of growth in a well-ordered fashion, thus increasing wood production.

 Professor Turner explained: “We wanted to know how the cells divided to produce this pattern, how they ‘knew’ which side to divide along, and we found that it was down to the interaction of these two genes.

 “Trees are responsive to a lot of things. They stop growing in winter and start again in spring and this changes according to the amount of light and the day length. It might take a tree 150 years to grow in Finland and only ten years in Portugal.

 “Now we know what genes are dictating the growth process, we can develop a system of increasing growth so that it is orientated to produce more wood – increasing the essential biomass needed for our future.”

 The team are now growing poplar trees in the lab – to see if they fit the Arabidopsis model. They will use these results to develop a system of increasing wood production.

Specimen of Arabidopsis collected from the Bollin Valley, Cheshire, 11 May 1867 by John Barrow. From the museum's collection of British Flowering Plants

close up of label

The paper ‘The PXY-CLE41 receptor ligand pair defines a multifunctional pathway that controls the rate and orientation of vascular cell division’ (Development) is available. Images are also available.

 For more information, images or an interview with Professor Simon Turner, contact Media Relations Officer Mikaela Sitford on 0161 275 2111 or Mikaela.Sitford@manchester.ac.uk.

International Women’s Day 2010

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Today is International Women’s Day.  To mark the occasion the museum organised a short lunchtime tour and talk celebrating the pioneering work of some women associated with the Manchester Museum.

We met in the reception area of the Museum where Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes gave an introduction to the tour and talked about the history of women working in the Museum.  We then went upstairs to to the Manchester Gallery where the work of some of our pioneering female botanists is showcased.  Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Exhibitions, gave a great talk about why Lydia Becker, Kathleen Drew-Baker, Marie Stopes and Jessie Heywood were so important not just to the advancement of rights for women but also for their contribution to the advancement of science.

Finally we took the group up to the herbarium where I had laid out some more information and specimens collected by these women.  Here the group had the opportunity to see some specimens at close range and even handle some of the more robust objects.  The group seem fascinated and interested by the tour.  However, I was especially pleased when one Phd student told me how much she was inspired and motivated by the stories of these women.   I’m sure Jessie, Kathleen, Marie and Lydia would be delighted to know that their hard work is still having a positive effect on women of the 21st Century – thank you ladies!

Unusual Trees to Look Out for (2)

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Pinus aristata (Pinaceae), Bristlecone (Rocky Mountain) Pine 165/026

Aristata means bristle-tip, referring to the cone segments.  The genus contains three species, including the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, which is thought to be the oldest living tree in North America.  A ring count from a core sample gives an age of 4,700 years.  The third species is Pinus balfouriana, or Foxtail Pine.  All three are rare, and grow in the mountains of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and other western states.  It was introduced here in 1863; the oldest known dated British tree is at Kew.  It was planted in 1908 and in 1972 was 20’ x 1’-7”.  Our three photographs are of a specimen aristata in Wythenshawe Park, Manchester.

“It differs most conspicuously from the two other bristlecone pine species in that the needles usually have only one, (only rarely two) resin canals, and these are commonly interrupted and broken, leading to highly characteristic small white resin flecks appearing on the needles. This feature, which looks a bit like dandruff on the needles, is diagnostic of Pinus aristata; no other pine shows it.” –Wikipedia

Ancient Bristlecone pine at 3000m on Wheeler Peak in the Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Unfortunately, my digital camera can’t cope very well with chiaroscuro contrasts, but I can assure you the white flecks are copiously present on the Wythenshawe Park tree’s needles.

Grindon Herbarium sheet with history of discovery of P. aristata

-Daniel King

Herbarium Films 4

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Here are some more ‘behind the scenes’ videos from the botany stores.

In this first clip, Leander shows you round the area where the liverworts and fungi are stored.  Please excuse the boxes cluttering up this space – they are being temporarily stored here while some maintenance work is being carried out in the top tower room.  The clip ends with a trip upstairs to the mezzanine and the collection of mosses.

This clip shows where the majority of the European flowering plants are stored together with our collection of  exsiccatae (books of dried and pressed plant specimens).

Herbarium Films 3 – The Library

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In this clip Leander shows you our secret library, hidden behind the cupboards of lichens and crytogams.  All the books in the herbarium library were catalogued onto the John Rylands University Library database and are searchable through their website.  The books are available for consultation and reference and can be viewed, by appointment, at the museum’s Resource Centre.

Herbarium Films 2

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Here are some more short videos shot in the herbarium.

This first clip is taken in what we refer to as the British corridor, although in truth it has more boxes of European flowering plants than British (we do have another corridor referred to as the European corridor which contains exclusively European flowering plants).

In this second clip Leander shows where the Leo Grindon and Algae collections are stored, and shows some examples of interesting specimens from those collections.