The World’s Shiniest Living Thing
2012 09 12

From: Not Exactly Rocket Science



In the forests of central Africa, there’s a plant that looks like it’s growing its own Christmas decorations. Shiny baubles sprout from between its leaves, shimmering in a vibrant metallic blue. Look closer, and other colours emerge – pinpricks of red, orange, green and violet. It looks as if Seurat, or some other pointillist painter, had turned their hand to sculpture.


But these spheres, of course, are no man-made creations. They’re fruit. They are the shiniest fruits in the world. Actually, they are the shiniest living materials in the world, full-stop.


They belong to a plant called Pollia condensata, a tropical metre-tall herb that sprouts its shiny berry-like fruits in clusters up to 40-strong. These little orbs are iridescent – they use special layers of cells, arranged just so, to reflect colours with extraordinary intensity. This trick relies on the microscopic physical structures of the cells, rather than on any chemical pigments. Indeed, the fruits have no blue pigment at all.


In the animal kingdom, such tricks are commonplace – you can see them at work on the wings of a butterfly, the shells of jewel beetles, or the feathers of pigeons, starlings, birds or paradise and even some dinosaurs. But in the plant world, pigments dominate and structural colours were thought to be non-existent are much rarer.


Silvia Vignolini from the University of Cambridge discovered Pollia’s secret at Kew Gardens in the UK. Her group, led by Ullrich Steiner, was scouring the plant world for species that bend light in interesting ways. Under the recommendation of the Smithsonian’s Robert Faden, Vognolini sought out Pollia, and with help from Kew’s Paula Rudall, she found a sample of the plant. It was collected from Ghana in 1974 but it’s still as vivid as ever. (Unlike pigments, structural colours don’t degrade, so the fruits will retain their sheen for decades to come. Some fossils still keep their iridescence.)


Under the microscope, Vignolini saw that the outer part of the fruit consists of three to four layers of thick-walled cells (labelled “1″ in the image below). Each cell contains yet more layers, made of cellulose fibres. The fibres all run parallel to one another, but each layer is slightly rotated against the one above it, producing an elegant spiral.


As light hits the top layer, some gets reflected and the rest passes through. The same thing happens at the next layer, and the next, and so on. Provided the layers are exactly the right distance apart, the reflected beams of light amplify each other to produce exceptionally strong colours. The technical term is “multilayer interference”. Or alternatively: “Ooh, shiny!”



Many animals use such structures to produce colour. This is why, like Pollia fruits, the wings of many butterflies and the feathers of many birds, can still look stunning after years in a fusty museum drawer. By finding the same structures in Pollia, Vignolini has uncovered a great example of convergent evolution, where species from different branches of the tree of life arrive at the same adaptations independently.



But Pollia fruits reflect more light than any bird or butterfly. Vignolini hasn’t just found the first strong iridescent colours in a plant; she’s found the strongest iridescent colours in nature.

[...]



Read the full article at: discovermagazine.com





Related Articles
Starbucks to stop using red food colouring made from crushed beetles
Radioactive glass used in art to highlight fallout in Japan
We are ALL made of Crystals
The Mandrake Plant and its Legend
Neanderthals Found Certain Plants Important, Had Medicine


Latest News from our Front Page

Brooklyn DA exposes hidden Child Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community
2014 08 22
Comment: We all know that the sex abuse cases within the Catholic church have been plastered all over the media in the last 6-8 years, but when do you ever hear about the rapes, sexual molestation and child sex abuse cases within the jewish orthodox community? Is the media helping to cover it? Will they give the same treatment of ...
California’s Economic Collision Course: Immigration and Water
2014 08 22
You have heard it before: “As California goes, so goes the nation.” If that is the case, the national economy will be harmed for decades to come because of California’s misplaced priorities today. Indeed, by emphasizing high-speed rail over water and failing to deal with its debt crisis, California poses a long-term threat to our national economy and ...
ISIS offered to swap Foley for ’Lady Al Qaeda’ - neuroscientist MIT-graduate
2014 08 21
An MIT-educated neuroscientist terrorist known as ’Lady al Qaeda’ was named on a ’laundry list’ of demands from ISIS captors holding James Foley named, it was revealed today. Petite mother-of-three Aafia Siddiqui is currently serving 86 years in a Texas jail after being arrested with plans for a ’mass casualty attack’ in the US, including infecting people with Ebola and a ...
James Foley beheaded - Financed by USA
2014 08 21
John McCain is a traitorous piece of garbage. Last year McCain worked with the "Syrian Emergency Task Force" to help overthrow the Syrian government. Investigative work (see the detailed article below) revealed that this task force was just a front organization for AIPAC. McCain met with known terrorists, including the infamous al-Qaeda. Yeah, the terrorist organization that was behind 9/11 received aid ...
’Hammer of Thor’ unearthed: Runes on 1,000-year-old amulet solve mystery of why Viking charms were worn for protection
2014 08 21
In Norse mythology, Thor’s hammer helped prevent giants from destroying Asgard, the celestial home of the gods. Thousands of tiny intricate amulets, similar to this weapon, have been found all over the Viking world since the first millennium CE. But for years, researchers have been unsure whether the amulets, known as ’torshammere’, were a representation of Thor’s hammer or something else entirely. Researchers ...
More News »