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Nature Inspires Useful Products

Some day soon you may be able to extract water out of thin air, decorate your walls with detachable wallpaper, read street signs clearly in fog, and employ reusable tape underwater.  These are some of the innovations coming from biomimetics – science inspired by nature’s designs. Venus flytrap:  Alex Crosby at University of Massachusetts was […]

Evolutionary Algorithms Improve on Plants

A press release from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign talks design, but it’s really about evolution, but then really about design.  Confused?  So is the author of the press release, entitled “Researchers successfully simulate photosynthesis and design a better leaf.” University of Illinois researchers have built a better plant, one that produces more leaves and […]

Fall Colors Have a Function

Deciduous trees have an investment decision to make when fall chill sets in: do they send their sunlight-produced nutrients to the roots early, and so risk damage to the leaves from autumn sunlight, or should they spend more energy creating a sunscreen that allows them to produce nutrients longer, and thereby increase food storage in […]

Searching for Natural Selection in a Wildflower

Evening snow (Linanthus) is an amazing little wildflower that adorns desert areas of southern California.  Its blossoms open in the evening, spreading fragrance across a harsh landscape.  Two varieties have been noticed; one with white flowers, and one with blue flowers.  Scientists noticed that the white ones sometimes grow on one side of a ravine, […]

Can Life Survive for Millions of Years?

How long can cells and tissues last?  Two different yet related stories should raise questions about the dates claimed, because the observations are astonishing. Trees of the living dead:  Cypress trees in Hungary supposedly buried for eight million years look pristine.  The wood is unfossilized and uncoalified, said the report on Breitbart.com.  All that remained […]

Photosynthesis Requires the Right Kind of Star

Where can photosynthesis occur?  The answer depends on the energy of starlight, the atmosphere, the amount of water vapor, and the organisms equipped to harvest it.     A new kind of photosynthetic bacterium was just discovered in a Yellowstone hot spring (see Science Daily).  Exciting as this is (and the discoverer felt he had […]

Greenland Was Forest Green

Greenland once had boreal forests like those in Sweden, reported Science Daily.  Researchers analyzed the mud under 2 km of ice and found DNA from yew, alder, pine, grain, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles.  According to the article, “the research is painting a picture which is overturning all previous assumptions about biological life and the […]

Plants’ International Travel Upsets Evolutionary Idea

They may be rooted in soil, but plants really get around.  Some of them make it around the world.  One example has upset a long-believed evolutionary idea.     First of all, plants have a social life.  National Geographic published a story about how plants socialize and communicate.  “Plants have family values, too, it seems, […]

Huge Forest Fossilized Suddenly

Nature1 had some interesting comments about the fossil forest found in a coal mine a few months ago (see 04/23/2007).  Kirk Johnson of the Denver Museum of Natural History said that a vast area (over 3.8 square miles) must have been inundated quickly for this fossil graveyard to be preserved. Rapid burial can result from […]

Seeds Muscle Their Way into the Soil

A biological motor has been found, of all places, on the seeds of wild wheat.  A team of German and Israeli scientists watched wheat seeds and found they could dig themselves into the ground.  How can a dry seed, with no muscles, nerves or circulatory system, accomplish such a feat?  It all becomes clear when […]

Details of Photosynthesis Coming to Light

New tools of science are unveiling the secrets of what was long a “black box” in biology: photosynthesis.  A paper in Nature last week1 described the structure of the plant PhotoSystem I complex (PSI) in near-atomic resolution.  Next day, a paper in Science2 described some of the protein interactions that occur when plants turn light […]

Seeking Explanations for Plant Fibonacci Spirals

The spiral patterns on an artichoke are enough to make a physicist choke.  How do plants like cacti, sunflowers, strawberries and artichokes produce geometric patterns of left- and right- handed spirals?  Why do these spirals follow a mathematical rule called the Fibonacci sequence?  A new theory suggests that it is the optimal energy arrangement for […]

Update on Plant Communication

Plants have both an intranet and an extranet.  Some recent papers investigated further about how plants, though rooted in the ground, keep in touch with the inside and outside economy. Intranet:  In 2001 (07/13/2001), and periodically since (10/04/2004, 11/09/2004) we reported the current thinking about how a plant knows when to flower, and described a […]

Fossil Forest Found in Coal

A Carboniferous forest extending some 4 square miles has been found in the ceiling of a coal mine, reported Science Daily, Live Science and News@Nature.  About 50 species have been identified, including ferns and horsetails over 10 times taller than those alive today.  News@Nature remarked that the forest contained some mangrove-like plants.  The article quoted […]

Orchid Deception: Is It Evolution?

Orchids comprise the most exotic and diverse group of flowering plants.  Some 30,000 species strong, this group contains members with unusual sex organs.  Some have organs that look and smell like the female of the insect species that pollinate them.  They seduce the males without giving them a reward of nectar for their stopover.  How […]
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