January 28, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

A Pitcher of Health, and Reasons to Love Slime

Pitcher plants contain chemicals that just might help medicine and agriculture, reported PhysOrg.  A Japanese team found a myriad of interesting proteins in this “evolutionary marvel,” a plant that eats insect meat.
    Now for some slimy good news.  PhysOrg said, “You know algae.  It’s the gunk that collects on the sides of a fish tank when you forget to clean it.  It’s the slime that makes you slip on rocks while crossing a stream.  You probably think of algae as a nuisance, if you even bother to think of it at all.”  How should you love slime?  Let me count the ways.  “Milt Sommerfeld and Qiang Hu [The Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology, University of Arizona] think of algae as one of the most useful substances in existence.”
    Here are some of the slimy good things in your future: environmentally friendly fuel, pollution control, food, fertilizer, wastewater treatment and animal feed, among other things.  Algae can take wastewater or manure and convert it into environmentally-friendly biodiesel fuel.
    With their flasks and beakers full of green fluid, Sommerfield and Hu are excited about the prospects of harnessing these highly efficient, photosynthetic factories to produce environmentally green solutions to human problems.
    Another team is investigating a gene that relieves stress in plants, reported Science Daily.  Why?  It may lead to a cure for cancer.  Agricultural crops more resistant to environmental stress may also be in the offing.
    Scientists are still trying to harness the water-splitting power of bacteria to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel.  They’re getting warmer, said a report in PhysOrg.  Five years ago (03/14/2003) and six years ago (10/08/2001), we reported how auto makers were envious of an enzyme called hydrogenase that splits water efficiently without the large expenditure of energy required in artificial processes.  Now, Thomas Wood of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering is corraling barrels of genetically engineered E. coli to work their magic for mankind.  If his reactor can continue to increase its efficiency, you may someday drive a hydrogen car that produces water as waste and runs on sugar.

Good science seeks understanding of things with at least one tentacle on how it can help improve our lives.  Why reinvent solutions from scratch when many of them are literally right under our feet?  Think of something yucky around you – mold, maggots, cobwebs, slime – and there is probably a miracle product waiting to be discovered.  Forward-looking, productive science owes nothing to evolutionary theory.  The only “evolutionary marvels” are the professors who cling to a dead, useless ideology.

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