June 20, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Plants as Engineering Plants

With intentional double entendre, we turn to look at
marvelous plants that show how to get design work done.


Throughout the botanical world, there are solutions to problems that engineers can learn from. But how did plants without brains and minds come up with them?

A biological super glue from mistletoe berries? (McGill University, 14 June 2022).

A scientist became intrigued when his daughter played with a berry from mistletoe they had bought and they found that the seed stuck to everything. It led to a research project, and that might lead to a new kind of bandage – even though the scientist is still struggling to figure out how mistletoe glue works.

Each mistletoe berry can produce up to two metres of a gluey thread called viscin. It allows the seeds of this parasitic plant to stick to and infect host plants. Since ancient times, mistletoe berries have been explored as treatments for everything from infertility and epilepsy to cancer. But, until now, no one has fully investigated the potential medical or technical uses of the glue itself. A recent paper from McGill University and the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, published in PNAS Nexus, suggests that through simple processing, viscin’s ultra-stiff flexible fibres, which adhere to both skin and cartilage as well as to various synthetic materials, could have a range of applications – both biomedical and beyond.

The resulting paper in PNAS Nexus gives all the glory to natural selection: “From an evolutionary perspective” [prepare to be hoodwinked], “the propensity of viscin from multiple berries to stick to one another is advantageous in order to create a network of fibers in the bird’s gut, that when released, presumably increases the likelihood of adhesion to branches, and thus, seed propagation and germination.”

Inspired by palm trees, scientists develop hurricane-resilient wind turbines (University of Colorado at Boulder, 15 June 2022).

The surge in wind farms hasn’t solved the problem of too much wind. Palm trees, though, have dealt with hurricane force winds since the beginning—even though their fronds are much lighter and more flexible than the stiff, heavy blades of artificial windmills. “We are very much bio-inspired by palm trees, which can survive these hurricane conditions,” said engineer Lucy Pao at UCSB.

Pao’s solution is very different from the palm tree, though. She works on the “controller” that tells the turbine when to point toward the wind (to turn and produce energy), or away from it to avoid damage. By making the blades more flexible, engineers can also help them survive strong winds. If she can figure out how to make the turbine drop seeds that can cross oceans and grow new turbines that can bend to survive hurricanes, she’ll be onto something big that climate alarmists might like.

New insights into the movement of pine cone scales (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, 31 May 2022).

Engineers are fascinated by biological movements that don’t require batteries or external power. Some of these wonders involve responses to humidity. Pine cone scales, for instance, respond to humidity:

Pine cones open when dry and close when wet. In this way, pine seeds are released only under advantageous conditions, namely when it is dry and the seeds can be carried far by wind. Opening and closing is of particular interest to researchers because the actuation is passive, that is, it does not consume metabolic energy. This is why the pine cone has already served as a model for biomimetic flap systems that react to moisture and are used, for example, in building envelopes to regulate the climate.

In their new work, the researchers refuted the idea that the motion works because of bilayers—two different materials with different responses to moisture. In the pine cone’s case, they found that the same material exists throughout the scale. The difference that produces the motion comes about because of two things: the fibers soften when moistened, and “although the different tissues are made of chemically identical materials, their arrangement along the scale varies.”

In the resulting paper in Advanced Science on 14 May 2022, Eger et al. show that “Passive-Hydraulic Pine Cone Actuation” occurs by structural and mechanical causes. It took engineering minds and careful observations to come up with “a model allowing a detailed mechanistic understanding of pine cone actuation is developed, which is a prime concept generator for the development of biomimetic hygromorphic systems.” Concepts exist in the realm of minds. Generation of concepts involves foresight and planning.

Thanks to lignin, some coast redwoods can grow up over 370 feet tall. (DFC)

Lignin-based jet fuel packs more power for less pollution (Washington State University, 22 April 2022).

What makes wood woody? It’s lignin, a complex biomolecule that imparts stiffness to plant cell walls. It’s the most abundant biopolymer on earth, but only a few fungi (wood rot fungi) know how to degrade it. Engineers drool about lignin, because it is plentiful, biodegradable and rich with energy. But what does lignin have to do with jet fuel?

Using a range of tests and predictions, the researchers examined fuel properties critical to jet engine operation, including seal swell, density, efficiency and emissions. Their results suggest that this sustainable fuel could be mixed with other biofuels to fully replace petroleum-derived fuels.

“When we tested our lignin jet fuel, we saw some interesting results,” said Bin Yang, professor with WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering and corresponding author on the study. “We found that it not only had increased energy density and content but also could totally replace aromatics, which are a real problem for the aviation industry.”

Cleaner energy, less soot: that will surely please air travelers. Professor Bin Yang at WSU found a way to convert lignin from agricultural waste. “This process creates a cleaner, more energy-dense fuel,” Yang added. “That’s exactly what sustainable aviation fuels need for the future.” His team’s upcoming paper in the August 2022 issue of the journal Fuel contains no mention of evolution.

That’s understandable, because Matti Leisola showed that lignin presents an enigma for Darwinists (Evolution News, 27 July 2012): “no living organism is able to use it [lignin] as a sole carbon and energy source, despite the fact that it is the most abundant energy-rich aromatic polymer on earth.” Michael Denton noted the importance of lignin for human society in Evolution News, 2 August 2020: “Without lignin, there would be no woody plants, no wood, no coal, no charcoal, no fire, no pottery, and certainly no iron or metallurgy.”

Think about the explanations that the Darwinists give for elegant designs. Does the mistletoe story make sense? Just because something would be advantageous, it does not follow (see non-sequitur) that chance will come up with a threadlike glue two meters long. A much easier and more probable option for the plant would be to go extinct. Why not? In Darwinland, nobody is there to care.  But if the mistletoe was already thriving, it didn’t need the viscin glue anyway. Either way, the Darwinian explanation is ridiculous.

Without saying so explicitly, evolutionists imagine organisms thinking and striving and conniving to invent these highly-sophisticated solutions over millions of Darwin Years—a subtle form of the personification fallacy—just because having the solution would be “advantageous.” Well, then, it would be advantageous for the host tree to evolve a glue dissolver so the mistletoe seed couldn’t stick to it, right? Necessity is not the mother of invention in a mindless world of chance. Neil Thomas calls natural selection a form of magical thinking — “postulating an effect without an identifiable agent or cause” (Evolution News, 13 June 2022), like wishing upon a star or rubbing a rabbit’s foot.

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Categories: Botany

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