New Delhi: A team of scientists at MIT has created a light-emitting plant using nanoparticles embedded in plant leaves that can glow brightly for several minutes after being charged just for a few seconds with an LED.
Although the team had developed similar plants in 2017, the new breed of plants is almost ten times as bright.
The team wanted to create a light-emitting plant with particles that would absorb light, store some of it, and emit it gradually. The idea was to ultimately develop plant-based lighting by using the renewable chemical energy of living plants
The plants use nanoparticles containing the enzyme Luciferase — also found in fireflies — to produce light.
The particles are several hundred nanometers in diameter and can be infused into the plants through the stomata, the small pores located on the surfaces of leaves. The particles accumulate in a spongy layer called the mesophyll, where they form a thin film.
A major conclusion of the new study is that the mesophyll of a living plant can be made to display these photonic particles without hurting the plant or sacrificing lighting properties.
This film can absorb photons or light particles either from sunlight or an LED. The researchers showed that after 10 seconds of blue LED exposure, their plants could emit light for about an hour. The light was brightest for the first five minutes and then gradually diminished. The plants can be continually recharged for at least two weeks. Read more.
Genetic mutation behind the pigeon’s short beak discovered
Scientists from the University of Utah discovered a genetic mutation that can explain why some breeds of domestic pigeons have smaller beaks — a phenomenon that had baffled evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin over a century ago.
The ROR2 gene is linked to beak size reduction in numerous pigeons. The same gene also leads to a human disorder called Robinow syndrome.
Robinow syndrome is an extremely rare genetic disorder in humans that is characterised by short-limbed dwarfism, and abnormalities in the head such as a broad, prominent forehead and a short, wide nose and mouth.
The gene ROR2 plays an important role in the craniofacial development of vertebrates.
Darwin was known to be fascinated with domestic pigeons, and he thought that they held the secrets of natural selection in their beaks. Natural selection is a key mechanism of evolution, which involves subtle changes in the inherited genetic traits of a population over generations in a way that makes them fitter for survival.
But, in the case of these domestic pigeons — beaks of all shapes and sizes exist within a single species. Sometimes, the beaks are so short that they prevent parents from feeding their own young. Geneticists have failed to solve this mystery by pinpointing the molecular machinery that leads to short beaks — until now. Read more.
23,000-year-old footprints shed light on human evolution
Scientists have discovered a set of fossilised footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico dating back to over 23,000 years ago, which shows that humans arrived in the Americas much earlier than previously thought.
The footprints were formed in soft mud on the margins of a shallow lake. Using radiocarbon dating, researchers from the US Geological Survey confirmed that these were the oldest known human footprints in the Americas.
The size of the footprints indicates that the tracks were left mainly by teenagers and younger children, with the occasional adult. The area also had animal tracks, including those of mammoths, giant ground sloths, dire wolves, and birds.
This shows that humans and animals coexisted at the site as a whole — researchers hope to recreate a more accurate picture of the landscape during this period. Read more.
A reactor that can convert carbon dioxide into fuel on Mars
Engineers at the University of Cincinnati in the US have developed a reactor that can convert carbon dioxide into methane using quantum dots — an advance that may not only help tackle the fossil fuel-driven climate change on Earth, but also provide fuel for human colonies on Mars.
The basic chemistry behind this process is already used abroad at the International Space Station to remove the carbon dioxide from the air the astronauts breathe out.
But the researchers from Cincinnati have included the use of graphene quantum dots, which are layers of carbon just a few nanometers big, that can increase the yield of methane.
According to the team, this would mean that instead of having to carry fuel for the return trip to Mars, astronauts in the future could simply pump it out of the planet’s atmosphere.
By using different materials instead of the carbon quantum dots, the reactor can also produce ethylene, used in the manufacture of plastics, rubber, synthetic clothing, and other products. Read more.
Melting polar ice caps can shift the Earth’s crust
A study suggests that melting polar ice caps is not only contributing to a sea-level rise but also changing the Earth’s crust beneath the polar ice caps in a way that its impact can be measured hundreds of miles away.
By analysing satellite data on melt from 2003 to 2018 and studying changes in Earth’s crust, researchers were able to measure the shifting of the crust horizontally — research showed that in some places the crust was moving more horizontally than it was lifting up.
To understand how the ice melt affects what is beneath it, imagine a wooden board floating on top of a tub of water. When you push the board down, the water beneath would move down. If you pick it up, you will see the water moving vertically to fill that space.
Understanding all of the factors that cause the movement of the crust is really important for a wide range of earth-science problems. For example, to accurately observe tectonic motions and earthquake activity, we need to be able to separate out this motion generated by modern-day ice-mass loss. Read more.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)