March 1 (Fri) at 14:00 - 15:15, 2024 (JST)
Shigehiro Nagataki

Silicon is the second most common element in the Earth’s crust. Some families of higher plants evolved mechanisms for soluble silica to be carried by xylem from groundwater and deposited as plant opal in or around plant cells as phytoliths thought to play a role in the structural support and defense against herbivores. While known since the early 19th century, phytoliths remain an intriguing class of microfossils whose formation and role in plants and their preservation in soils and sediments are a subject for a lot of active research. I outline some emerging themes in phytolith analysis including phytoliths’ role in global biogeochemical cycles, plant-herbivore interactions, and their tracing of evolution of cultural plants, especially cereals such as rice (Oryza), wild rice (Zizania), maize (Zea), wheat (Triticum) and millet (Panicum), all relevant to global archaeology. Some emerging research on phytoliths connects their changes in shapes to plant taxonomy of some families such as grasses and opens up avenues for further investigation of their active construction in the cells of some taxa by yet undiscovered genetically mediated mechanisms. New image analysis techniques and some advanced microscopy methods will allow us to further the field of phytolith study using deep machine learning algorithms and true 3D analysis of their shapes, something where contribution from other branches of science are most welcome.

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