Livin’ on ur plants, harvestin ur sunshine
The ability to gather sunlight and convert it to useable energy has been the plant kingdom’s longstanding trump card (along with some bacteria and fungi) when it comes to “greatest evolutionary adaptation known”. Unlike the rest of the tree of life ,photosynthetic organisms have billions of years worth of free energy to count on. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of solar food. The evolution of the animal world actually wouldn’t have happened if photosynthetic organisms hadn’t started pumping oxygen into our atmosphere in the early years of Earth.
For the first time, scientists have found evidence that an insect shares this ability. Some pea aphids, like the one pictured above, can produce plant-like orange pigments called carotenoids. In addition to chlorophyll, these are the same compounds that leaves use to harvest light, and also why we get those beautiful browns and oranges in autumn.
The aphid seems to have “stolen” the genes from a fungus, and then through some non-photosynthetic mechanism, is using the pigments to create ATP, life’s energy currency.
This isn’t the first time a larger organism has developed the ability to harvest sunlight! A sea slug was discovered a few years ago that borrowed photosynthetic genes from microscopic algae. Looks like the branches on that tree of life cross over more than we thought.
More at Scientific American.
Posts from the ‘plants’ Category
Plant-Inspired Medicine: It’s Slippery and Sterile
Many people think of bacteria as little round or rod-shaped swimmies, free-floating like plankton in the sea. But that’s not true of most bacteria in nature. Much of the time, they exist in dense, carbohydrate-rich colonies called biofilms. From the gunk inside your pipes to the plaque on your teeth, these bacterial goop fortresses are very common, and very tough.
Antibiotics, heck, even bleach, have a hard time breaking through biofilms. And some of the dangerous bacteria that people fall victim to in hospitals use these biofilms to persist on tables, equipment and other surfaces.
A Harvard group has developed a way to line those surfaces with a durable, safe material that is so slippery that even ice can’t grow on it. It’s called SLIPS, appropriately, because scientists will do anything to nail down a cool acronym. It’s inspired by the surface of the carnivorous pitcher plant, a frictionless micro-structure that makes its insect prey fall in and never come out. Same for the bacteria. It’s so slippery that even the toughest microbes can’t grow on it.
Check out more of this nature-inspiring-technology story at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
(pitcher plant illustration by SpaceHunterZorg)
While it’s incredible that we (much less nature!) can produce a surface on which even microbes can’t hang on, it’s also something I think should be used relatively sparingly. The spread of Staph and other bacteria in our hospitals is obviously a great application.
However, bacteria are pretty important to us, especially in the development of our immune system. I’m not sure widespread use of SLIPS would be good in the long run.
How does everybody else feel about it?
The things we can do with science these days. Recently, a 32,000 year old plant was resurrected from permafrost and is growing just fine.
The resurrected plant, from an era of woolly mammoths and saber-tooth cats, is the oldest viable multicellular living organism, according to the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is also the first plant returned to life from permafrost conditions, researchers said.
And I still can’t wait to see how that woolly mammoth project turns out!
Christina Agapakis details the many ways that we have harnessed living creatures to make photo-like images. At top left, photosynthetic cyanobacteria migrate to where light is shined in a petri dish, seeking energy, and appearing as pigment. At right, a shadow image of the word “FERN” is projected over a leaf, causing the chloroplasts to migrate to the surface and appear as shading.
More unique bio-photography from bacteria to grass at her blog, Oscillator.
Some stunningly (sorry) beautiful pictures of various plants with 80,000 volts of electricity running across them. Through a fascinating process described in the article, Robert Buelteman laid plants on an aluminum plate that floated in liquid silicone, ran the electricity through them and then photographed them with a minute light from a fiber-optic cable to ran over the plants. He even would direct electricity to certain areas using a wand and car battery. Beautiful mesh of art and science.