Worms and Flowers

Pollen Under the Microscope

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on May 1, 2010

Who knew allergies could be beautiful?! Swiss photographer Martin Oeggerli took ultra-microscopic pictures using a device called a  scanning-electron microscope (SEM) these photos are stunningly and even frighteningly beautiful. I especially loved the uniqueness of the pollen from each different species.

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Forget-me-not pollen photo by Martin Oeggerli

Check it out on MSNBC, “Micropollen:The Beauty behind your allergy misery.

Butterfly vs. Bt

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on September 29, 2009

PhotobucketI know, I’m not Sherlock Holmes, but there is a serious problem afoot that needs some investigating. Here is the first clue: On the East Coast the most prevalent butterflies are the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in both its black and yellow forms. These pictures were taken last year in the middle of June.  One of their favorite flowers in these parts are the milk thistles. There are a ton of these thistles and they bloom a lot, but this year, not one butterfly on their flowers. Not one. In fact I saw two butterflies this entire summer. A black one quickly darted away from me while I was picking blackberries and a Yellow Tiger Swallowtail also darted away from me closer to the yard.

Second Clue: Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring soil-dwelling bacteria and biological insecticide. Bt is a living organism very similar to Anthrax.  Bt, like anthrax, produces endospores a virtually indestructible  enclosure that protects the organism’s DNA. Endospores remain dormant until favorable conditions are met, then they replicates their own DNA, producing other compounds and toxins during the process. One of these is a crystal protein toxin produced by Bt’s cry gene. This cry toxin specifically effects larvae in many orders of the insect family. Bt lives in the soil and on plant material, specifically plant material that caterpillars need to eat. When caterpillars or any insect larvae ingest the cry toxin it becomes activated due to the pH in their guts. The toxin basically causes the cells in the thin gut lining to explode, quickly and effectively killing the insect. This is exactly how Bt insecticides and genetically modified Bt crops work.Photobucket

I lifted the following paragraph from Wikipedia’s Bt page. “Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects”

oh, except, ants, beetles, butterflies,  flies, mosquitoes, moths,  nematodes and so on…

Granted, we don’t want mosquitoes with West Nile Virus flying all over the country, but do we really prefer Bt killing every insect in sight like an invisible grim reaper?

Sources:

Wikipedia Bt]

UPDATED INFO: Bt Correction

First Blush

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on September 24, 2009

Autumn is truly upon us and the leaves have noticed not a moment too soon.

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Just a few days ago, I noticed the tiniest blush of gold on the green hills.

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When the days shorten the trees respond by storing as much energy as possible for the upcoming months. They begin by sealing off the leaf petiole, preventing chlorophyll from regenerating.

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When the chlorophyll breaks down it leaves the more stable carotene molecules. Carotene naturally occurs in green leaves, acting as an accessory to increase absorption of certain wave lengths in the light spectrum. With the chlorophyll gone the leaf appears yellow due to light reflecting from the carotene molecules.

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Under certain stressful circumstances, bright dry days and cool nights, the tree makes a last ditch effort to recover any remaining nutrients.  If these condition are met, a reaction between the sugars and proteins in the sap occurs, catalyzing anthocyanins, pigments that can be red to purple colored depending on the pH. Anthocyanins are responsible for the red skin of apples and the purple colors of grapes.

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Depending on the temperature and weather conditions, fall displays can vary greatly from year to year.

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Sources:

The Chemistry of Autumn Colors

HowStuffWorks “Why do leaves change color and turn red?”

Talkin’ to Plants: Good Vibrations

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on July 16, 2009

Over the weekend I read a post from Gururaj at the Japanese Garden about what his cuttings are saying about him, in particular, he mentioned that his curry leaf cuttings were depressed by the strange lack of ambient street noise, since moving to Japan from India. These thoughts really struck me, it was only last Friday that I threatened my hyacinth bean. With strong intentions I thought to myself, “You Hyacinth bean, you had better flower, or I am going to award you with slow-poke of the year award.” That very same day, in the afternoon, the flowers had popped open!!

We ‘ve all heard the old adage, talking to your plants may help them grow. We’ve also heard things about plants having feelings and enjoying music. I am not disputing that plants are alive, after all, we can watch them growing, but it’s the stuff that happens on the molecular level that really puts a funk in all these arguments about plants having physical feelings.

The notion that plants have a sense of feeling has been around since 300 B.C. Greek  biologist and metaphysicist Theophrastus was one of the first to note the physical response of plants. Darwin, also mentioned this phenomenon when studying the roots of sprouting broad bean seeds (that’s fava beans to us Americanos. ) This work can be found in Darwin’s book The Power of Movement in Plants.

The tendrils of vining plants like clematis, peas, and cucumbers are a great example of a plant’s sense of feeling. When the tendril “feels” support it modifies the growth of the tendril, stopping growth were there is contact and increasing growth in the other parts to quickly and tightly wrap around the support.

In 2004 MythBusters tested the talking to plants to increase growth hypothesis. Despite a malfunction with the experiment’s irrigation system and problems like germinating peas in midsummer on an L.A. rooftop, they concluded that it was indeed plausible.

First it should be mentioned that there have been numerous studies showing correlations between high levels of atmospheric CO2 and relative growth rate. This is a natural defense mechanism. If there is a catastrophic natural disaster, such as a forest fire, the plants usually temporarily increase their relative growth rate and  photosynthesis before becoming acclimated to the CO2-heavy environment.

To eliminate a CO2 response, MythBusters recorded their positive and negative talking. In the experiment there were seven greenhouses, two of positive talking, two of negative talking, a death metal greenhouse, a classical music greenhouse, and the control.

Their results showed the positive and negative talking being equally effective, while the classical music performed better, and best of all were the plants from the death metal greenhouse.

Researcher’s from South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology have found two genes controlling plants’ response to light were also turned on by music played at 70 decibels. The Korean researchers found differing responses depending on the frequency of the sound. The higher the frequency, the more active was the gene response. A Canadian paper showed that seed germination is influenced by sound at 92 decibels—much louder than one would normally speak.

More from this PennState article can be found here.

Form these various experiments we can conclude that the vibrations of  sound waves trigger Thigmorphogensis, a response plants have to wind, physical touch, and sound, which makes the plants produce ethylene that in turn slows down the upward growth of plants, making them sturdier and stronger to withstand the wind.

In conculsion, neither whispering doting words of affection, nor breathing down your plants neck will increase their overall growth, but turning on the fan, or turning up the stereo just might help to grow a stronger plant!