It has been an amazing month for science.
MIT researchers have succeeded in printing solar panels onto any piece of paper.
Dutch company PlantLab has figured out how to triple the yield of plants using only 10% of the water typically needed:
When grown outdoors plant photosynthesis is only about 9% efficient. With the correct balance of colored LED light, PlantLab has increased that efficiency to 12 or 15%, aiming for 18%. Double the efficiency means increased yield (or more likely equal yield with less energy). By keeping the plants in a contained system, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one tenth the water as with traditional greenhouses. Because PlantLab’s harvest is indoors, they don’t have pests (and could quickly isolate rooms that somehow got contaminated) and they don’t need pesticides. Finally, PlantLab’s production facilities can be built almost anywhere: from the Sahara to the Artic, it’s all going to look the same indoors. So everyone’s food can be grown as local as possible. That means fresher food with less costs of transportation.
PlantLab’s Gertjan Meeuws recently discussed some of the other benefits and results of their work on Southern California public radio (KPCC). He claims they’re able to increase crop yield by a factor of three so far!
Scientists at MIT have designed a drug that can cure virtually any viral infection.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvannia have found a way of “turning the patients’ own blood cells into assassins that hunt and destroy their [leukemia] cancer cells.”
Half Animal, Half Plant
And Live Science reported last January:
A green sea slug appears to be part animal, part plant. It’s the first critter discovered to produce the plant pigment chlorophyll.
The sneaky slugs seem to have stolen the genes that enable this skill from algae that they’ve eaten. With their contraband genes, the slugs can carry out photosynthesis — the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy.
“They can make their energy-containing molecules without having to eat anything,” said Sidney Pierce, a biologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“This is the first time that multicellar animals have been able to produce chlorophyll,” Pierce told LiveScience.
The sea slugs live in salt marshes in New England and Canada. In addition to burglarizing the genes needed to make the green pigment chlorophyll, the slugs also steal tiny cell parts called chloroplasts, which they use to conduct photosynthesis. The chloroplasts use the chlorophyl to convert sunlight into energy, just as plants do, eliminating the need to eat food to gain energy.
The babies of thieving slugs retain the ability to produce their own chlorophyll, though they can’t carry out photosynthesis until they’ve eaten enough algae to steal the necessary chloroplasts, which they can’t yet produce on their own.
The slugs accomplishment is quite a feat, and scientists aren’t yet sure how the animals actually appropriate the genes they need.
Here’s a photo of the slug: