Winter is the season of dreams for farmers and gardeners. We tell our spouses, children, and friends our hopes and dreams for the next growing season—as long as they can stand to listen. But our truest companions through the cold evenings are our beloved seed catalogs, that fine genre of literature, which caters to all our notions of what a farm or garden can be.
The concept of “green energy” got a whole lot more literal this week, when scientists announced they’d successfully turned living roses into electronic circuits. That’s right—cyborg flowers are now a thing.
Despite how it sounds, the aim isn’t to create a race of leafy green borg that will one day rise up and enslave their human masters. Instead, think smart plants that can sense and display environmental changes, or crops whose growth can be regulated at the flick of a switch. Or plant-based fuel cells that convert the photosynthetic sugars into electricity. The very first electronic plant, developed by researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and described this week in Science Advances, is a step toward any one of those applications and many more.
“As far as we know, there are no previously published research results regarding electronics produced in plants,” said study lead study author Magnus Berggren in a statement. “No one’s done this before.”
Scientists have uncovered a new enzyme that works to block the adverse effects of sugar on the body. Present in all mammals, the enzyme plays the role of disposing of the unwanted byproducts of heightened glucose levels. In discovering this key step in the metabolism of sugar, the scientists say they have uncovered a new therapeutic target for conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity, and are now working to develop drugs that boosts its activity.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been nominated to facilitate the implementation of the Year in collaboration with Governments, relevant organizations, non-governmental organizations and all other relevant stakeholders.
It sounds like a modest ambition: France wants to raise the amount of carbon in its soils by 0.4% a year, writes John Quinton. But that represents a vast amount of carbon, and its capture into soils will bring a host of other benefits. We should all get with the program!
In India, Dr. Vandana Shiva is a force for change not only among the commentariat but also on the ground. On a recent trip to California, Shiva spoke with Acres U.S.A., covering an amazing amount of ground.
The Warka’s water harvesting technique and construction system are inspired by several sources. Many plants and animals have developed unique micro- and nano-scale structural features on their surfaces that enable them to collect water from the air and survive in hostile environments. By studying the Namib beetle’s shell, lotus flower leaves, spider web threads and the integrated fog collection system in cactus, we are identifying specific materials and coatings that can enhance dew condensation and water flow and storage capabilities of the mesh. The termite hives have influenced the design of Warka’s outer shell, its airflow, shape and geometry. We also looked at local cultures and vernacular architecture, incorporating traditional Ethiopian basket-weaving techniques in Warka’s design.
Research suggests plants might be capable of more than we suspect. Some scientists - controversially - describe plants as "intelligent".
They argue a better understanding of their capabilities could help us solve some of the world's thorniest problems.
Four experts talk to the BBC World Service Inquiry programme about what plants can teach us. Stefano Mancuso: Plant intelligence is real
Professor Stefano Mancuso leads the International Laboratory for Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence.
"We are convinced that plants are cognitive and intelligent, so we use techniques and methods normally used to study cognitive animals.
"The main problem with plants is they move much more slowly than animals so we need to record plant movement for many days.
"We did an experiment with two climbing bean plants. If you put a single support between them, they compete for it.
"What is interesting is the behaviour of the loser: it immediately sensed the other plant had reached the pole and started to find an alternative. This was astonishing and it demonstrates the plants were aware of their physical environment and the behaviour of the other plant. In animals we call this consciousness.
"We don't have a clear idea of how plants are able to sense the behaviour of other plants.
"Plants are much more sensitive than animals. Every root apex can detect 20 different physical and chemical parameters - light, gravity, magnetic field, pathogens and so on.
"Plants distribute all along the body the functions that in animals are concentrated in single organs. Whereas in animals almost the only cells producing electrical signals are in the brain, the plant is a kind of distributed brain in which almost every cell is able to produce them.
Magic tricks work because they take advantage of the brain's sensory assumptions, tricking audiences into seeing phantoms or overlooking sleights of hand. Now a team of researchers has discovered that even brainless single-celled yeast have sensory biases that can be hacked by a carefully engineered illusion, a finding that could be used to develop new approaches to fighting diseases such as cancer.
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