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Divining Plant Evolution from Uncooperative Data

A new book on plant evolution came out.  How well does it do explaining the diversity of the world’s plants via Darwin’s theory of natural selection?  The answer depends on how forgiving you can be with details that don’t fit very well.     The book is Paleobotany The Biology and Evolution of Fossil Plants. […]

Plants Use the Perfect Propeller

What kid hasn’t played with maple seeds to watch them spin in the air like helicopters?  Scientists watch them, too.  A team from the Netherlands and California found out how they stay in the air for so long without engines to drive them.  One would think in an era of advanced aeronautical engineering the physics […]

Grasses Ratchet Their Seeds Into Distance Travelers

John Muir said we should not pity plants as prisoners to one spot.  In their own ways, they travel the world as we humans do.  Anyone who has walked through wild dry grass may have been annoyed at how many foxtails get buried in their socks and how hard it is to get them out.  […]

Plant Evolution: Where’s the Root?

To Darwin, the origin of flowering plants was an “abominable mystery.”  Recently, some entries on Science magazine’s blog Origins have claimed the mystery has been solved, at least partially, and a full solution is near at hand.  Here is a great test case for evolution.  Angiosperms comprise a huge, diverse population of organisms.  There should […]

Animal Protein Appears in Plant

Science Daily reported a “a first-of-its-kind discovery that overturns conventional wisdom” – an animal substance produced by a plant.  The white bird of paradise tree, a large plant that resembles a palm or banana plant (see picture), has bright orange flowers with a substance previously known only in animals.     Animals produce bilirubin from […]

Evolution of Photosynthesis: A Theory in Crisis

“Although the last word on the origins of oxygen-making photosynthesis isn’t in,” writes Mitch Leslie in Science,1 “researchers say they are making progress.  One thing is for certain, however: Without this innovation, Earth would look a lot like Mars.”  That’s the end of his story.  What did he say in the beginning and middle?  Not […]

The Uses of Wood Rot

Wood rot fungus doesn’t sound like a useful thing.  Most people would rather get rid of it – especially those who have seen their houses decay because of it.  Some scientists, however, are intrigued by it.  It may have properties that could some day help power your car.     Science Daily reported that the […]

Corn Is Fuel in More Ways than One

There’s been controversy lately about the diversion of corn crops from food for humans to ethanol for engines.  Why not both?  A new pilot program announced by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft saves the corn cobs for eating but makes ethanol out of the straw.  If so, this would make the whole plant an energy factory for the human […]

Plant Lignin Found in Red Algae

Time to rewrite the textbooks again.  The story of plant evolution is wrong.  Lignin, a chemical that gives wood its stiffness, was thought to be unique to land plants.  Now it has been found in red algae, reported Science Daily, with the title, “Billion-year Revision Of Plant Evolution Timeline May Stem From Discovery Of Lignin […]

Plants Heal Humans and Vice Versa

Flowers in your hospital room do actually make you heal faster.  A study by Kansas State researchers reported by PhysOrg found that more patients recovered from abdominal surgery faster with flowers in the room.  It may be due to more than the psychological benefit of enjoying their colors, fragrances and the get-well wishes behind them: […]

Lizard Hair and Other Fables

In some science reports, it’s hard to tell where the data stops and the speculation begins.  In any case, evolutionary theory usually arrives in time to take credit for whatever happened in the unobservable past (cf. 08/24/2007). Bad hair joke:  Live Science wants you to blame your bad hair days on lizards.  Why?  Because according […]

Plants Have Thermostats

Plants, being stuck in the ground, have few options when it gets hot.  They may not be able to move into the shade like animals, but they know how to cope.  They have a built-in thermostat that acts like a fire prevention department.  Science Daily tells the story.     Researchers at Michigan State identified […]

Fastest Squirt Gun in the Fungi

A paper on PLoS One described the highest-speed flights in all nature: the spore discharge mechanisms in certain fungi.  A dozen scientists in Ohio worked to capture the action on ultra-high-speed cameras.  It took 250,000 frames per second to reveal how fast the projectiles accelerate.  The answer: from 20,000 to 180,000 g (where g = […]

Trees Communicate with Aspirin

Trees talk to each other in a chemical language (02/21/2006), but till now, no one realized they sound an alarm with aspirin.  Trees emit a vaporous form of aspirin when under stress, reported Science Daily, that talks on the ecological network.  This was an unexpected finding.     Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric […]

Leaves Don’t Fall; They’re Pushed

Rocks may fall (thus the need for warning signs on highways), but leaves are pushed off of trees by a genetic program.  The process, called abscission, has been mysterious for a long time.  A team from the University of Missouri has mapped out, for the first time, the abscission pathway in one plant.  Being this […]
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