Tuesday, May 3, 2016

April Orchid Science


Bee or Orchid? (Ophrys apifera)
Photo credit: © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Ophrys, or "bee orchids" have a clever reproduction strategy. These orchids look so similar to female insects, that males are fooled into mating with the flowers, thereby pollinating them. These flowers not only look strikingly similar to their insect pollinators; they also produce specialized scents, called allomones, which copy the pheromones emitted by an insect seeking mates.

The Ophrys genus is large, containing over 2000 species, subspecies and natural hybrids.  These orchids grow all over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and related species can form many naturally occurring hybrids.

Scientists in this study looked at hybridization among three Ophrys species (Ophrys lutea, Ophrys fusca, Ophrys dyris). They recorded photographs of flowers and gathered DNA samples from Bee Orchids in various parts of Portugal. Afterwards, they performed genetic analysis to examine which orchids contained DNA from related species.
Three Ophrys orchid species featured in this study
Photo credits:
Ophrys dyris and Ophrys lutea by Luis Nunes Alberto (Wikimedia commons)
Ophrys fusca, by Orchi (Wikimedia commons) 
What they found was that O. dyris and O. fusca were so intermixed in the wild, that even with the help of all the genetic data, it was not always possible to identify which of the two species a given flower belonged to.  Finding a population of pure O. dyris orchids was rare.

Looking at the image of these two orchids (above), I can easily see why.  The flowers look incredibly similar, and if you told me that both images were the same species, I would not hesitate to believe it.

The authors also report extensive hybridization and introgression (backcrossing of hybrids with parent species) among O. fusca and O. lutea. However those two species are more distinct from one another than O. fusca and O. dyris.

Authors: Cotrim H, Monteiro F, Sousa E, Pinto MJ, Fay MF
Published In: American Journal of Botany , April 7, 2016
Marked hybridization and introgression in Ophrys sect. Pseudophrys in the western Iberian Peninsula.


Satyrium nepalense
Photo Credit: L. Shyamal (Wikimedia commons image
Satyrium nepalense, is a rare terrestrial orchid which grows at high altitudes in India and South-Central China. This orchid species is threatened due to habitat destruction and over-collection. Various parts of the orchid have been used since ancient times as a dietary supplement to treat various ailments. (However, modern medical research to validate these medicinal properties is lacking.)

This paper describes a protocol for large-scale propagation of Satyrium nepalense in a lab setting. The paper also describes a method for extracting phenol compounds from the roots and leaves of the orchid for biochemical analysis.

Authors: Babbar SB, Singh DK
Published In: Methods in molecular biology, April 24

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