Plants

Can fungi make violins sound like a Stradivarius?

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 11, 2012   View Article

Violin makers of the future may be able to match the sound quality of a Stradivarius thanks to a pair of fungi that get their nutrition from the wood used to make the instruments.

The Swiss researchers and violin makers behind the project explain that ideal wood for violin tone is low density, with a high speed of sound and a high modulus of elasticity, which is a measure of the wood’s resistance to strain.

Tiny Breathing Plant Mouths

Publication: HHMI Bulletin   Date: May 1, 2012   View Article

When Keiko Torii gazed through the microscope at a mutant Arabidopsis thaliana leaf covered in specialized cells called meristemoids, she saw more than a beautiful anatomic anomaly—she saw a new way to probe a fundamental system in developmental biology.

Meristemoids are stem-cell-like precursors that give rise to a pair of guard cells, which form stomata—tiny pores on the skin of almost all land plants that are crucial for the exchange of water vapor and gas during photosynthesis. Close study of meristemoids has largely eluded scientists because the cells, by nature, are transient and few and far between.

“When I looked at this,” Torii says, pointing to a poster-size image of the mutant leaf with a tightly packed honeycomb of DayGlo blue meristemoids hanging on her office wall at the University of Washington, “I thought maybe this could be an economical tool to study what makes a meristemoid a meristemoid.”

Sunflowers inspire improved solar power plant

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 11, 2012   View Article

The well-tuned geometry of the florets on the face of the sunflower head has inspired an improved layout for mirrors used to concentrate sunlight and generate electricity, according to new research.

The sunflower-inspired layout could reduce the footprint of concentrating solar power (CSP) plants by about 20 percent, which could be a boon for a technology that’s limited, in part, by its massive land requirements.

CSP plants employ arrays of giant mirrors, each the size of half a tennis court, to beam the sun’s rays up to heat a tube of fluid in the top of a tower. This hot fluid drives steam turbines that generate electricity.

Metabolome mined for biofuels

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: November 12, 2011   View Article

Japanese and American scientists are teaming up to boost the production of biofuels with a host of studies that aim to increase understanding of the metabolome.

The metabolome is the group of chemical compounds produced in living cells that are used to generate energy, build structures and other life-sustaining biological processes.

Caterpillar Fungus Making Tibetan Herders Rich

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 27, 2011   View Article

Harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows high on the Tibetan Plateau in China is infusing hordes of cash into rural communities, scientists say.

The fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects’ heads.

Known as yartsa gunbu—or “summer grass winter worm”—by Chinese consumers, the nutty-tasting fungus is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits, for instance, as a treatment for cancer and aging and as a libido booster. Far away in the booming cities of Beijing and Shanghai, demand for the fungus has soared.

Top ten species of 2009 named

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: July 15, 2010   View Article

This bomb-dropping worm, Swima bombiviridis, is among the top 10 species discovered in 2009, according to the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. The annual roundup winnows down a list of about 20,000 species described each year to just a few mind-benders.

“It is a great way of getting the public involved in biodiversity,” says Mary Liz Jameson, a biodiversity scientist at Wichita State University and chair of this year’s selection committee. While the criteria for selection include scientific significance, Jameson admits that “the cool factor” also plays a part.

For example, the bomb-dropping worm found off the coast of California “has these green gills it can kind of throw off, and the predator will follow the gill instead of following the [worm], so it is tripping up the predator,” Jameson said. “It’s really cool.”

Check out the other cool species on the top-10 list.

Pictures: Rare Bees Make Flower-Mud “Sandwiches”

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: May 10, 2010   View Article

What appears to be part of a spring wedding bouquet is actually a nest for a rare species of solitary bee, a new study says.

Called a “flower sandwich,” the three-tiered arrangement consists of a thin layer of petals on the outside, then a layer of mud, and finally another layer of petals lining the inside of the chamber, according to study leader Jerome Rozen, a curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

At the core of the sandwich is the bee’s larva, which feasts on nectar and pollen deposited inside the chamber by its parent before the egg is laid and the nest is sealed.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach