Can we help plants pull out more carbon from the atmosphere?

Plants love carbon. Most of a plant’s weight does not come from materials from the soil but what it pulls out of the air.

Animals want oxygen in the air, while plants want carbon dioxide. Plants pull carbon dioxide out of the air using a compound called rubisco. Rubisco isn’t really good at telling the difference between oxygen and carbon dioxide. When rubisco binds to oxygen instead of carbon dioxide it wastes the plant’s energy.

All land plants are descendants of green algae, part of why they are green. Red algae and some bacteria that conduct photosynthesis have different versions of rubisco. These different versions might be better than the plants that grow on land. We could test which rubisco is the best then put it into land plants.

While rubisco itself hasn’t changed much in land plants, they have changed the way they use and produce it. Recently, the level of carbon dioxide has been increasing. Plants have been optimized to the previous level of carbon dioxide. Studies have shown that genetically engineering plants to over express rubisco allows them to absorb more carbon dioxide and grow faster.

Elliott Killian

Why are Lotus flowers a sign of purity? Superhydrophobicity. What is that?

Superhydrophobicity also known as Ultrahydrophobicity is when a material is really good at repealing water. Lotus produce a special wax that forms nanostructures. The outside of the flowers and leaves cause water droplets to form and roll down. You can see droplets on the leaves in the photo. This helps the plant clean the surface; self-cleaning. Clean leaves means more sunlight energy captured.

The reason why lotus flowers are a sign of purity is they grow in the mud, then emerge beautiful and clean. Superhydrophobicity of the flower with water cleans all the mud off of the flower.

We still do not fully understand how plants do this. Humans have found other chemicals and methods the mimic this property. This technology has been proposed to be used in low water or no water toilets, self-cleaning solar panels, and self-cleaning cars. Imagine never going to a car wash again.

Elliott Killian

Why are dandelions everywhere? Because they can clone themselves.

Most plants and animals require a mate to reproduce. This limits how quickly a population can grow in a new environment. Dandelions can grow very quickly in new environments (your yard) because they do not require a mate.

Dandelions have two options when producing seeds. They can carry out the common reproduction process or they can clone themselves and put a clone inside a seed. This cloning practice is called apomixis. Dandelions then produce hundreds of seeds which are carried very far by the wind.

Many consider a dandelion an unwanted plant, a weed. However, dandelions have many uses. Humans can eat them, create dyes, make traditional medicines, and the latex can be used to make rubber.

Elliott Killian

Which one of these has the most Vitamin C: Potatoes, Oranges, Broccoli, or Rose Hips? The answer might surprise you.

Humans unlike many other animals do not produce our own vitamin C, so we need to eat foods that have it or get scurvy like a pirate. I like my teeth so where can I get vitamin C?

Elliott Killian

You might have also heard to drink orange juice because it has lots of vitamin C. Oranges do have vitamin C, however not as much as broccoli. Broccoli has about twice the amount of vitamin C than oranges.

Unfortunately the majority of Americans receive most of their vitamin C not from broccoli or oranges but from potatoes which has less than half of the amount oranges have.

Broccoli has vitamin C, however not nearly as much as rose hips which have about five times more.

You may have heard that Vitamin C prevents diseases. This unfortunately is not true. Vitamin C does not PREVENT diseases, however studies have shown that it can significantly decrease recovery time, allowing you to get better faster if you are sick.

Food mg/ 100g
Rose hip 426
Broccoli 90
Orange 53
Potato 20
Apple 6

Where are apples from?

The answer isn’t so simple.

Elliott Killian

Most apples in the world are grown in China. China is the largest producer of apples.
You could say most apples come from China.

However, most of these apples are turned into juice, not used as fresh fruit. The United States is the second largest producer of apples. Producing about a third of China. Most apples in the United States are fresh apples and are produced in Washington State.
You could say most fresh apples are from Washington State.

However, apples are not native to Washington State. Apples are native to central Asia including Kazakhstan. The former capital of Kazakhstan is Almaty which name means “father of apples” or “full of apples” depending on who you ask.

The fact that apples are grown all over the world shows how much we like them.

What do Blueberries and baseball have in common?

Both from America and both influenced by New Jersey soil.

Blueberries are either lowbush or highbush. Lowbush blueberries are wild and are not farmed but managed. Highbush blueberries are grown by farmers. Blueberries need acidic soils and often grow in forests or near swamps. New Jersey soil was the first place highbush blueberries were grown. Before that all blueberries were wild. Blueberries are even the state fruit.

Elliott Killian

In Canada most of the blueberries are lowbush, wild. In 2015, blueberries made up almost 30% of the economic value of all fruit produced in Canada.

What about baseball?

Before each game, mud is rubbed on each new baseball. This removes the gloss and makes the ball easier to throw. Where does this rubbing mud come from? New Jersey. Only a handful of people have ever known the exact location where rubbing mud is harvested. The same mud is used by most professional baseball teams.

Tomatoes are a BERRY not a vegetable

Why do we think they are a vegetable?

One reason is that we cook with tomatoes as if it is a vegetable. For example, often used in soups and stews which do not contain fruits that we normally think of such as apples or oranges. At least I’ve never had apple soup.

Elliott Killian

In the US the Tariff of 1883 taxed imported vegetables but not imported fruits. People imported tomatoes and declared them as fruit. However, the US government stated that they were a vegetable and that they needed to be taxed. It went all the way to the US Supreme Court in Nix v. Hedden. The court ruled that tomatoes were a vegetable, and a tax needs to be collected. They said there is a “ordinary meaning” to be used instead of the botanical meaning.

What do you think?

Venus Fly Traps can consume human flesh?!

Could they ever grow so big to eat a person?
Unlike animals, carnivorous plants only consume meat for nutrients, not energy. The original range of Venus Fly Trap is the swamps of the Carolinas, USA. The soil does not have a lot of nutrients, so they catch prey for nutrients. Venus Fly Traps can eat flies, grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders.   

Made by Elliott Killian. Person trapped inside a Venus fly trap. (image is not real and is photoshopped)

Barry Rice author of Growing Carnivorous Plants fed a Venus Fly Trap a piece of his toe. After a week it was gone. Eating a whole person is different. Venus Fly Traps cannot eat prey that are too large or toxic. Larger prey will overload the trap or break it. But how big could a trap get? And could a trap be large enough for a person?

Victoria amazonica (Large Lily Pad) and Gunnera manicata (Brazilian giant-rhubarb) both max out their leaf size at 10 feet or 3 meters in diameter. In theory a trap could get this big. Anyone smaller than 10 feet watch out. However closing leaves this size would be difficult for a plant. Plus, both leaves are thin. Tearing this leaf would be like tearing tissue paper.

Like most creatures, humans are afraid of we are more of a threat to it then they are of us. Venus Fly Traps are of no danger to humans, but humans just walking on Venus Fly Traps hurt them.

Can plants cure cancer?

This trees produce a toxic compound that we use to treat many types of cancers.  

Made by Elliott Killian. Yew tree produces taxol. Taxol has been used to treats many types of cancers.

Plants often produce poisonous chemicals to prevent creatures from eating it. Some of these chemicals at lower concentrations humans enjoy; caffeine, nicotine, theobromine (chocolate) and some are used as medicine.

Taxaceae (Yew) is a family of trees that produce paclitaxel also called taxol. This chemical is used in chemotherapy and prevents cells from dividing. Taxol is effective because cancer cells divide faster than non-cancer cells.

Until the mid-90’s all paclitaxel was produce by cutting down trees. The amount of taxol in the bark differs in each tree. One or more trees would be needed to be harvested for just one dose.

Taxol is one of the best-selling cancer drugs. Helping many people.
Today we have multiple versions of taxol and we can produce taxol not by cutting down trees but by growing plant cells in a lab.  

Imagine what other compounds are waiting to be discovered in plants.