Nanobionic plants

17 March 2014

A leaf infiltrated with carbon nanotubes (shown in orange) (Credit: Juan Pablo Giraldo)
A leaf infiltrated with carbon nanotubes (shown in orange) (Credit: Juan Pablo Giraldo)

Synthetic nanoparticles can boost photosynthesis in plants and enable them to spot pollutants, according to a team of researchers in the US.

Previous research that added nanomaterials to plants had focused on the uptake of nanoparticles through plant cell walls and membranes, and their absorption, transport and distribution. But this latest study takes a nanobionic approach and could transform plants into a non-conventional technology, says Juan Pablo Giraldo who performed the work in Michael Strano’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

To create the nanobionic plants, the team extracted chloroplasts – tiny structures in plant cells that are home to the photosynthetic system – from Arabidopsis, a flowering plant that is commonly used by biologists as a model organism. They put the chloroplasts into a buffer solution and added polymer-coated nanoparticles containing ceria (CeO2). ---> Keep reading

Saturn’s largest moon home to prebiotic ‘soup’

12 March 2014

Titan is Saturn's largest moon (Credit: Shutterstock)
Titan is Saturn's largest moon (Credit: Shutterstock)

Scientists should expand their quest for life in other worlds by searching for any kind of liquid, not just water, say researchers. Rich organic chemistry can occur in many types of liquid, and a recent study supports the idea that a prebiotic ‘soup,’ from which life could emerge, may be present in hydrocarbon lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

‘We think that life requires liquid,’ says Chris McKay from Nasa, who led the study. ‘Right now, there’s a bias that that liquid has to be water. But maybe when we look at other moons and planets, we should be asking what other possible liquids there could be.’

Using new data from the Cassini probe, which has been orbiting Titan since 2004, alongside his team’s lab research, McKay has released the first year results of a five-year investigation into whether a prebiotic soup could form on Titan. ---> Keep reading

Shrub is a smart gambler when tackling parasites

12 March 2014

Approximately 2000 berries were collected during this study from different regions of Germany (Credit: nborisova)
Approximately 2000 berries were collected during this study from different regions of Germany (Credit: nborisova)

It's never fazed by seeds of doubt. A shrub with small, edible berries is a cool customer when parasites attack, responding in line with the severity of the infestation.

Each fruit of the barberry, Berberis vulgaris, has either one or two seeds, which may be targeted by larvae of the tephritid fruit fly.

Katrin Meyer, now at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her colleagues collected around 2000 berries and examined them for signs of piercing – because the fruit fly makes a tiny hole in the berries so it can lay its eggs inside. If the berries were pierced, the team also dissected them.

It was already known that the plant can cut off nutrient supplies to its seeds when resources are limited. Meyer's team also found that the same mechanism was used with infested seeds, killing the parasite in the process. More surprisingly, the likelihood of a seed being aborted depended on how many seeds the berry had – if it had two seeds and one was attacked, the plant killed off the infested seed 75 per cent of the time, compared with just 5 per cent in single-seeded berries that were attacked. ---> Keep reading


Bacteria Could Grow Futuristic 'Self-Healing' Materials

03 April 2014

"Living" materials are made by nudging E. coli bacteria to grow biological films that contain a special type of protein called curli fibers (blue lines) (Credit: Yan LiangYan Liang)
"Living" materials are made by nudging E. coli bacteria to grow biological films that contain a special type of protein called curli fibers (blue lines) (Credit: Yan LiangYan Liang)

Why bother to manufacture materials if you can grow them organically? Researchers have produced "living" materials by nudging bacteria to grow biological films. In turn, this process could lead to the development of more complex and interactive structures programmed to self-assemble into specific patterns, such as those used on solar cells and diagnostic sensors, and even self-healing materials that could sense damage and repair it, a new study finds. ---> Keep reading

Life may have begun in a tiny water droplet

17 Jan 2014

Chemical reactions run much faster and more efficiently when they take place in tiny droplets rather than in freestanding water – such as a puddle or a lake, say researchers. The advance could help unravel how life originated on our planet, unlock secrets of prebiotic atmospheric chemistry and help synthesise new molecules much more efficiently.

One theory on the genesis of life is that it began in evaporating aerosol droplets. As these droplets evaporated the space for the small, simple molecules that they held to move around freely shrank. This, in turn, increased the concentrations of these reactants, creating just the right conditions to trigger efficient prebiotic synthetic chemistry. ---> Keep reading


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