Biology

Photosynthesis interrupted: Plant parts used to generate electricity

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 13, 2013   View Article

A decade from now, a recorder powered by plant parts and stashed in the woods may answer the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s one potential application for an energy conversion technology inspired by photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight into food.

Global greening, the other ‘greenhouse effect’, is underway

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 1, 2013   View Article

Large stretches of arid land have become greener since the 1980s due to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, which fertilizes plant growth, a new study shows.

While this greening has long been noted in satellite imagery, its direct link to carbon dioxide (CO2) has been difficult to prove, explained study leader Randall Donohue, an environmental scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

“There are so many processes occurring simultaneously that affect plant behavior, it is very difficult to determine which process is responsible for any given change,” he told NBC News in an email. Teasing out a CO2 fertilization effect amongst the other processes “hasn’t been done before,” he added.

Critters evolve rapidly to cope with environmental change

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 8, 2013   View Article

Critters can evolve over just a handful of generations to survive whatever environmental maladies humans toss their way, from climate change to over fishing, suggests a new study.

“That is the first take-home message, and it is a positive message,” Thomas Cameron, a biologist at Umea University in Sweden, told NBC News as he explained his new findings reported Tuesday in the journal Ecology Letters.

Diapers made from silk and discarded shrimp shells?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 15, 2011   View Article

Parents who fret over the choice between cloth and disposable diapers may soon have another option: biodegradable ones made with a new material called called “Shrilk,” so named because it’s made by combining a silk protein with chitin, a hard substance commonly extracted from shrimp shells.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University reports that Shrilk “replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature’s more extraordinary substances — insect cuticle.”

Robotic jellyfish gets more realistic

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: November 28, 2011   View Article

A robot designed to look and swim like a jellyfish has gotten even more realistic, according to a researcher working on the motion component of the machine.

The robot, known as Robojelly, was developed for the Office of Naval Research in 2009 to spy on ships and submarines, detect chemical spills, and monitor the whereabouts of migrating fish.

They did this by putting little wires, called bio-inspired shape memory alloy composites, that, when heated, contract just as a muscle does.

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.

Yeast adds vitamins to bread

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 24, 2011   View Article

Bread loaded with beta-carotene, the stuff that makes carrots orange and helps prevent blindness, could improve the health of millions of people, thanks to a strain of genetically enhanced yeast developed by undergraduate students.

“It looks exactly like normal bread,” Arjun Khakhar, a junior biomedical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University, told me Monday. “There’s no orange color or anything because the yeast only makes up a very small part of the bread.”

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach