Stories tagged plants

A four-leafed clover: Imagine five four-leafed clovers, and one one-leafed clover, and you've got the idea. Or just click on the link and see an actual photo.
A four-leafed clover: Imagine five four-leafed clovers, and one one-leafed clover, and you've got the idea. Or just click on the link and see an actual photo.Courtesy Phyzome
That's right, Buzz Creatures--a 21-leaf clover has been found by a clover enthusiast in Japan. Each leaf is luckier than the last, to the point where the top leaves are blisteringly lucky, and may only be observed through a welder's mask. So lucky.
As far as I can tell, no magic was used in creating or finding the clover, although the man who found it has been breeding many-leafed clovers for years. Since the discovery, he has become the Emperor of Neo-Japan (his term) and Duke of the Moon (his idea). No one can stop him.

Oct
29
2007

The Bhut Jolokia: Hot, spicy.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Bhut Jolokia: Hot, spicy. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Television has once again invaded reality. Normally I approve of this unconditionally, because it usually involves supernatural powers or really attractive people. This occasion, however, might require delicate handling.

Do you remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer eats the Guatemalan insanity peppers at the chili cook off? I know that you do.

Well, it seems that Guatemalan insanity peppers do exist, after a fashion. Researchers at New Mexico State University have recently revealed that the Bhut Jolokia pepper is, by far, the hottest pepper known to man. It turns out that the Bhut Jolokai (also known as the Naga Jolokia) is from India, not Guatemala, but the term “insanity pepper” may still be applicable.

The second hottest pepper in the world, the Red Savina, registers at about 500,000 on the Scoville scale (the Scoville scale is a somewhat subjective test, but is generally accepted as the best measurement pepper hotness, or piquancy). The Bhut Jolokia measures in around 1,000,000 on the Scoville scale, with a variety cultivated in Dorset, England reaching as high as 1,600,000. As a reference point, standard grade US pepper spray (used by police, people afraid of bears, etc) has a lower end Scoville rating of 2,000,000. Pure capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers spicy, rates between 15,000,000 and 17,000,000.

A fun fact: it was recently discovered that tarantula venom and capsaicin activate the same pain pathways in mammalian brains.

In case you are somehow unfamiliar with Guatemalan insanity peppers, you can watch this.

Jun
25
2007

Nipping crime in the bud: When asked whether or not this method could be used to find the source of other illegal drugs, the Alaskan scientist stated, "Um... What?"  (photo by ilmungo)
Nipping crime in the bud: When asked whether or not this method could be used to find the source of other illegal drugs, the Alaskan scientist stated, "Um... What?"
(photo by ilmungo)

Sometimes I place quotation “marks” randomly. It’s a kind of written-language Tourette’s Syndrome, and I live in constant fear that its effects might “lead” people to false conclusions. “”

Anyhow, scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are developing methods of tracing samples of marijuana back to their points of origin by studying the “isotopic fingerprint” of the plants. Presumably this is to aid people suffering from the advanced stages glaucoma find their medicine.

Whatever the reason for it might be, the process for determining the growing location of the drug is an interesting one. Isotopes, for those of you who are still reading, are, of course, elements with the same number of protons and electrons, but different numbers of neutrons. For example, the element nitrogen can be found with 13 neutrons, 14 neutrons, or 15 neutrons – those are all isotopes of nitrogen.

When you look at the ratio of isotopes in an object, you can sometimes find out where that object came from geographically, because certain areas will sometimes have isotopic signatures. This is how scientists figured out where Otzi the Iceman came from: the enamel on his teeth had an isotopic match with a small region in Italy, so it’s very likely he grew up there.

Applying this basic method to marijuana, the Alaskan scientists are finding that isotopic levels of hydrogen and oxygen in the plants can show where the water they were fed with came from. Carbon in the plant can show whether or not it was grown indoors. Nitrogen isotope levels can also be used to learn about plants’ origins. Combining the information from all of these ratios, researchers are attempting to construct a map of marijuana isotopic signatures, so that any sample with unknown origins could be matched up with a specific location.

In order to achieve this isotope map, however, the project director says he needs “time, money and many more samples of marijuana.”

Science takes back the streets!

Jun
01
2007

Gray garden: A growing trend in the western U.S. is the use of gray water, water that comes from the drains of shower, bath tubs and washing machines, to go through an outdoor filtering process and then be used to water plants. Some see the idea as too big of a health
Gray garden: A growing trend in the western U.S. is the use of gray water, water that comes from the drains of shower, bath tubs and washing machines, to go through an outdoor filtering process and then be used to water plants. Some see the idea as too big of a health
As more and more people become environmentally conscious, to what extremes should we as a society let them go to help protect the environment?

That’s a pressing question these days in some western states where water is scarce and some people are trying to find creative ways to reduce their water consumption.

Meet gray water, that water that comes from the drains of bath tubs, showers and washing machines. It’s not full of hazardous waste products, but is not usable for drinking or cooking. How about flushing your toilets or water lawns with gray water?

A growing “gray water brigade” is finding creative home plumbing solutions to re-route gray water into other uses in their homes. Sometimes the modifications are quite simple to do, costing just a few hundred dollars.

But they rarely meet the building codes of the cities the gray water. Systems that have been put into use by contractors meeting local construction guidelines can cost as much as $7,000. In a recent story in the New York Times, a plumbing contractor admitted that he now encourages people interested in recycling grey water to find their own home remedies rather than fork out big bucks for a professional solution.

The same story gave a quick description of one such homemade system. A pipe running from the house deposits shower and sink water into an elevated bathtub in the yard that is filled with gravel and reeds. The roots of the plants begin filtering and absorbing contaminants. The water then flows into a lower tub, also containing a reed bed, before flowing into a still-lower tub of floating water hyacinths and small fish. The whole system cost about $100 and the final product is used to water flower beds at a California home. Chemical tests of the filtered done by the homeowner show a slightly high level of phosphorus, but nothing the plants can handle.

But other water experts share their concerns with gray water, including the risks of open pools of water becoming a mosquito breeding ground, the possible crossing of gray water lines with other plumbing that could contaminate clean water, or using gray water to irrigate plants that might be eaten raw.

Most states now have regulations about gray water usage. But proponents of gray water say those rules make the idea cost prohibitive.

So what should be done on the gray water front? Is it okay for people to play with gray water at their own risk? Are the health risks too great for this kind of experimentation? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

May
08
2006


Brassinosteroids in tobacco plants: The level of brassinosteroids regulates both the size and aging of tobacco. With low levels, tobacco is dwarfed (some as small as 10 inches tall; see plant in front) and the leaves do not age, while at normal levels of brassinosteroids, tobacco stands almost 6 feet tall and the leaves turn yellow as they age (plant in back). Photo courtesy Michael Neff and Joanne Chory.

I am all over this idea. While I don’t personally mind mowing, I know lots of people do, and truthfully, while I don’t mind, I sure would like the additional free time!

In a paper in the May 4 issue of Nature, scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute report that they have figured out a class of hormones that regulates growth in plants – including grass! And while this would be great for me, there are a lot of other good things that could come of this besides a mow-free yard, such as the development of trees that could be halted at a specific height so that they don’t interfere with power lines, raspberry bushes grown taller so that they are easier to pick, and increase the yields of crops such as corn or soybeans.

The key hormones are called brassinosteroids. With this new knowledge regarding brassinosteroids scientists may be able to stop growth in yard grass by limiting brassinosteroids or increase the yield of a crop by increasing brassinosteroids. Increasing crop yields would be very useful, especially considering urban expansion and the loss of farmland worldwide and steadily increasing global populations.

I can’t wait until the mow-free lawn becomes a product – but we’re likely many years away from that happening. Until then, I’ll keep mowing – or just replace my lawn with Field Turf.

May
25
2005

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


ChestnutCourtesy Jaydot

At the end of April, President Bush marked Arbor Day by planting an American chestnut tree on the White House lawn. What makes this small piece of political theater significant is that the chestnut—a beautiful native tree which featured prominently in art and literature—was virtually wiped out by disease.

In 1900, chestnut trees spread from Maine to Mississippi. By 1950, some 99% of them had died of chestnut blight, a fungus introduced from China. A few isolated populations hung on, primarily in remote regions of the Appalachian Mountains.

In recent years, scientists have worked hard to breed a disease-resistant strain. They've taken surviving chestnuts and crossed them with Chinese chestnuts, which have a natural resistance to the disease. The result is a new American chestnut that can withstand the blight.

Feb
25
2005

If the Venus fly trap doesn't have any muscles, how can it snap closed on its prey in less than 1/10 of a second? Harvard mathematician Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan might have the answer. He discovered that a Venus fly trap uses water pressure to keep its leaves on the brink of slamming shut. When a fly or something else lands inside the plant, tiny hairs trigger an electrochemical reaction. This moves water between the cells of the Venus fly trap's leaves. In the blink of an eye, the plant's bent leaves become unstable and slam shut.

Mahadevan compared this to a bent contact lens or a halved tennis ball. The slightest tap will cause the lens or tennis ball to quickly snap back into shape. Researchers still don't fully understand how the plant triggers the water pressure change.

You're wondering why a mathematician was studying a plant? A student gave Mahadevan a Venus fly trap as a gift. Curious about how the plant's behavior, he used a high-speed camera to watch it eating its prey. From these videos, he developed a mathematical model of the plant's movements. (A mathematical model is a very realistic simulation of the real world using measurements and many mathematical calculations.) His model unraveled the mystery of this carnivorous plant.